Game Preview: NC State @ 14/16 UNC

“Saturday night and we in the spot, don’t believe me just watch” -Bruno Mars, and the bravest fans of State and Carolina.

It’s the first rivalry game for the Triangle teams in this college basketball season and #NCSNOW might mess things up.  The current forecast will be outdated and updated by the time you read this article, but we can say that winter is coming.  And we all know how North Carolina handles snow events (pictured).

All the panic over the weather was enough to cause ticket prices on the secondary markets to plummet from $100+ to a low of $25 yesterday.  Over $100 for the cheapest ticket is much more expensive than usual in this rivalry, and is a sure sign of the talent on both sides.  Mark Gottfried has his most talented team, and as long as they feel safe enough to travel on snowy roads to Chapel Hill (remember that time Duke postponed “indefinitely”?) we should be in for an entertaining game.  If you were able to jump on an upper level $25 ticket kudos to you my friend!

GAME PREVIEW:

If you listened to the latest podcast an interesting question was posed during the RAPID FIRE HOT TAKE ROUND (all caps for dramatic emphasis).  Who has more talent… Carolina or State?  The answer to this question has easily been Carolina outside of a couple of years in this millennium, and we still think the answer this year is UNC.  But.  BUT.  It’s a lot closer than people think even in a year where Carolina is extremely talented.

  1. Dennis Smith, Jr    —   Joel Berry
  2. Torin Dorn              —   Kenny Williams  (THEO PINSON???)
  3. Terry Henderson   —   Justin Jackson
  4. Malik Abu                —   Isaiah Hicks
  5. Omer Yurtseven     —   Kennedy Meeks
  • State Bench:  Maverick Rowan, Markell Johnson, Ted Kapita, BeeJay Anya, Darius Hicks
  • UNC Bench:  Tony Bradley, Nate Britt, Luke Maye, Brandon Robinson, Seventh Woods

Carolina usually overwhelms teams by pace and size.  Pure athleticism.  Run, pass, score.  Or… run, pass, miss, rebound, rinse and repeat until you score.  Teams can’t contend with the speed of the UNC break or the size to play volleyball until they can snare the rebound.  This NC State team isn’t Joe Flacco elite at rebounding, but does have the size and more importantly the depth to compete on the glass.

Just looking at the big men who would you take?  State has a mobile 7 footer (Yurt7), a 2x/2x machine (Abu), a high motor guy (Kapita), and the school’s all-time leading shot blocker (Anya).  UNC has 3 highly skilled bigs, and Meeks especially has been playing like a monster.  But the frontcourt is where Carolina usually has a huge advantage and that’s not the case in this game.

This matchup at PG has people salivating.  We told you last year that Joel Berry was better than Marcus Paige and was a top 5 PG in the country.  We still believe that.  He was the MVP in Maui and has been dominant both before and after the ankle injury.  The Tar Heels usually have a huge advantage at point guard, but again that’s not the case in this game.  Despite Berry carrying UNC to victory at Clemson with 31 pts and 7-10 shooting from 3PT range, he didn’t have a better showing last time out than Dennis Smith Jr.

All DSJ did was drop 27/11/11.  Those are Russell Westbrook numbers.  He’s the 7th freshman in ACC history to mess around and get a triple-double, and the ONLY FRESHMAN EVER to do it in an ACC game.  This didn’t come against Generic Directional School, it came against #21 Virginia Tech.  We told you in the podcast that we thought Berry was better right now but Smith’s ceiling is higher, but that was before the triple-double.  Now, I’m calling this one a dead heat and can’t wait to watch these two go at it on Saturday.

Moving on now to the wings… who is better, Henderson or Jackson?  Jackson, duh.   But *cue 30 for 30 music* “What if I told you…” Henderson is averaging only 1 point less than Jackson while posting a better FG%, 3PT%, and FT%.  Jackson averages more rebounds, assists, and in my opinion is a slightly better defender.  But, Henderson compares pretty favorably to Jackson and is more efficient as a scorer, which is Jackson’s primary role.  COMMON THEME ALERT: This matchup is closer than a lot of people think

As for the other guards, Torin Dorn had a quiet game vs VT but is an incredible athlete (as older Tar Heel fans should know) and he’ll probably have some extra motivation going against his dad and brother’s team.  Backup PG Markell Johnson looks to be a solid option as the NCSU PG of the future.  And Maverick Rowan has a rare combination of size and shooting ability… dude can score.  On the other side I’m down on Nate Britt but he almost won the GT game and doesn’t take a lot off the table.  The freshmen Woods and Robinson aren’t really ready to contribute a whole lot right now but do have bright futures.  Kenny Williams, however, is THE MAN.  This guy didn’t impress me much at all last year, then he comes out this season and is playing great defense, doing the little things, and knocking down every 3 point shot he looks at.  People were expecting Carolina to struggle at times early in the season without Theo Pinson and Williams played so well it wasn’t much of a problem.  Speaking of Pinson…

Theo Pinson might just be the difference maker in this game.  He’s been dressing out for a couple weeks and was eager to play at Clemson.  There is a decent or better chance that he’ll be cleared by Saturday night, and especially if the game is postponed I would bank on him being available to play.  Pinson at SG is a big reason why UNC was ranked #6 in the preseason and if he does play it will be our first glance at a truly whole Carolina basketball team.  Remember when NC State looked underwhelming and all of a sudden destroyed teams once they got all the pieces together?  Obviously Pinson hasn’t played and generally that means a slow start as the player gets his legs back under him, but given the amount of dancing Theo has been doing on that bad foot I assume he’s in tip-top game shape and ready to go 100%.

Both teams are talented.  Both teams have been a little Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde this year.  And that’s the biggest question before this one tips off.  Which team will we see?  Will we see the NC State team that just dropped 104 on Virginia Tech or the team that went on the road and laid an egg @Illinois and @Miami?  Will we see the Carolina team that played the game of the year in Vegas against Kentucky and dominated the Maui Invitational?  Or will it be the team that lost to AWFUL Georgia Tech and needed a heroic and career high scoring effort from Berry to escape Clemson with a win in overtime?

We don’t know which version of each team we’ll see, but the one constant in this rivalry is the hatred.  If you’ve ever been to a Carolina-State game you’ve felt the tension, you’ve felt the fervor after a made basket.  At the end of the game, one fanbase will have their chests sticking out more than Chuck Amato and the other fanbase will be a collective Crying Jordan Meme.  It’s beautiful, and I can’t wait.

I can’t wrap up this preview without giving a special shoutout to goheels.com for exemplifying what makes this rivalry great.  On the front page of the website there are 3 State-UNC game related articles.  All 3 have pictures of State and Carolina playing in recent years.  All 3 feature one, if not both, Martin twins.  That isn’t a coincidence, it’s a not-so-subtle troll job.

It’s NC State.  It’s North Carolina.  And it’s gonna be fun.

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