Rivalry picks: NC State hosts UNC
Posted January 25, 2013
Updated January 26, 2013
Raleigh, N.C. — Saturday's contest at PNC Arena marks the 223rd meeting between in-state rivals North Carolina and North Carolina State.
The Tar Heels hold an overwhelming advantage in the series, 147-75, but having already knocked off No. 1 ranked Duke, NC State has proven they'll be coming to play.
UNC is 13-5 (3-2 ACC) on the season and NC State is 15-4 (4-2 ACC). Junior Reggie Bullock has emerged as a leader for the Tar Heels and CJ Leslie continues to add explosiveness to a loaded NC State squad.
As in any rivalry, it is not about the record; it is about the pride and bragging rights that go along with beating the combatant with whom you share nothing more than bad blood.
The WRAL sports staff weighs in on Saturday's rivalry game offering their keys to the game and tell you who they think will win.
The Tar Heels had their players only meeting a week ago. NC State had theirs after a surprising loss at Wake Forest.
Carolina is starting to put the puzzle together after a frustrating 0-2 start in the ACC. Three straight ACC wins has given Carolina a little more confidence. Dexter Strickland said they are finally believing in themselves and the freshmen are finding their roles. Marcus Paige has grown immensely.
NC State has had a tendency to play poorly in spurts, moments in games and games themselves. But there's nothing like a visit from Duke or North Carolina to snap them into attention. The Wolfpack beat Duke on a Saturday afternoon 2 weeks ago and I think they will add North Carolina to the list this Saturday night ending a 13 game losing streak to the Tar Heels.
It's funny, you could probably take my State-Carolina predictions from last year and republish them - but only after switching the references to "State" and "Carolina."
This time around, it's State's front court I think will make the difference. Just as Henson and Zeller were too much to handle for most teams last season, Leslie and Howell are a load for opponents to carry now. That's especially true for a Carolina team still rebuilding its front line. If you could combine Hubert's defense, Johnson's offense and James' size into one player - then play that RoboHeel alongside James Michael McAdoo - things might be different. But that person doesn't exist. So I expect the Pack to pound it inside - much like they did against Duke.
Given the Pack's recent slide, and Carolina's recent improvement, I'm not as certain about this as I was two weeks ago...
Pick: NCSU 77 UNC 71
It is really hard to figure either team out right now. The one thing I do know is that NC State is a better team in Raleigh than they are away. They also play better when it’s a “big game”. Given those two factors, I am picking the Pack. The key for NC State, as always, will be CJ Leslie and whether or not he shows up to the game. This is a completely different team when he isn’t at his best. NC State will also have to keep Richard Howell out of foul trouble. Good coaches know he is the entire front court for NC State, so you know Roy Williams will have a plan to go after him. I think this will be a good game early, much like the Duke game, but I expect NC State to pull away in the second half. Put this game in Chapel Hill and I have a much different opinion.
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It's been a long time since North Carolina comes into this game as a decided underdog. It's been just as long since the Tar Heels came into this match up with a team that was less talented than the one trotting out in Red and White. But, it's been at least as long since Roy Williams lost to NC State. Not that this is going to be a factor Saturday night at PNC Arena, but Williams is riding a personal 13-game winning streak in the series.
But, the reality is that North Carolina State has inherent advantages in talent and experience that will make it difficult for North Carolina to overcome. If Calvin Leslie, Lorenzo Brown and Scott Wood all show out it's going to be even more difficult for the Tar Heels to contain the best offensive team in the ACC. However, NC State is going to have to bring more defensive intensity to the game or they're likely to be taking the ball out of their own basket at least as much as they put the ball in North Carolina's. The reason for NC State's struggles in putting away some of the lesser teams in the league have absolutely nothing to do with offense. Heck, they're shooting 51% from the field for the season!
Here's the Wolfpack in a nutshell. First in the ACC in scoring and shooting percentage, but 2nd to last in points allowed. If State dialed up just a little more defense -- and maybe when they see the powder blue of UNC across the court that will be the case -- they'd be one of the best teams in the country, let alone the ACC.
For that reason, and the fact that North Carolina has played a fair amount better over the last three games whereas the Wolfpack haven't since Duke left Raleigh, I'll take the Tar Heels.
Pick: UNC 84 NCSU 81
While North Carolina has gone through a better stretch of basketball heading into the contest, let's not act like NC State won't be fully engaged for a rivalry game on their home court.
The Wolfpack hold certain matchup advantages over the Heels. Richard Howell will be tough to handle for the trio of big men Roy Williams rotate and Lorenzo Brown has the potential to take over the game with Marcus Paige and Dexter Strickland across from him. If Calvin Leslie wants to, and it's a big if at this point, he should be able to do work on James Michael McAdoo's finesse leanings.
If North Carolina is looking for the early spark, it should come from Reggie Bullock or PJ Hairston knocking down shots from beyond the arc. That would quiet PNC Arena real quick and drops some doubt into the Wolfpack.
NC State has shown they can rise up on their home floor with high expectations shown with a dominant win over Duke. The Pack can score, but being able to play defense for a full forty is still a question. UNC has picked up their game on the defensive end of the floor and that has translated into 3 straight wins but is still looking for more out of their point guard.
It will be close. But the home court will be the difference.
Pick: NCSU 86 UNC 80
Sophomore Desmond Hubert matching up against CJ Leslie. Leslie has struggled his entire career against shot blockers. Not that Hubert is anything like John Henson was, he still will give Leslie problems in the low post. Also, Carolina is more I'd a perimeter team this year than they've been in years past. Reggie Bullock will have to have a big game for the Tar Heels to pull an upset in Raleigh.
Pick: NCSU 86, UNC 71
There is no doubt that both North Carolina and North Carolina State can score points, how they score points, and who can stay on the court, however, may prove to be the difference Saturday.
NC State is one of only a handful of teams in the nation with all five starters averaging over 11 points per game, thus, it is not surprising that only six players on the team average over 10 minutes per game – in fact all six average over 29.
For UNC, the minutes and the scoring are spread out. The Tar Heels feature 10 players that average 10 minutes or more per game and have seven that are scoring at least six points per contest. This “balance” is due to a lack of defined roles on the court with both Reggie Bullock and James Michael McAdoo being asked to do more than their natural skill sets would suggest.
With the game at PNC Arena, emotions and noise will both be high. If the Pack stay out of foul trouble, there is no question that they matchup against the Tar Heels very well. If fouls become an issue, the Heels have a shot.
Pick: NCSU 82 UNC 71
NC State did well to avoid falling into the rivalry talk over the past week, instead they opted to discuss what the team needs to do to win any game. No doubt a win over North Carolina would mean a heck of a lot to these players but their composure and focus clearly shows they are ready to play. After losing a close game to Wake Forest Tuesday a win Saturday is even more important to the Wolfpack team. Given the game is back at home, a place where they've had success all year, and where the fans have been out of this world, this game will be their's for the taking.
North Carolina showed they had problems with big teams, and CJ Leslie and Richard Howell should cause problems for James Michael McAdoo underneath. McAdoo will provide as much of an issue for State as Duke's Mason Plumlee did just weeks ago, and we all saw how that turned out. UNC will need to have a strong outside game, control the ball well and come up big, per usual, on the boards to stick with State. If so they'll have a chance to steal the game, that being said this one should fall to the Wolfpack.
While it's still early in the ACC season, the narratives (#goacc) on both the Wolfpack and the Tar Heels are getting clearer every day. In Chapel Hill, UNC has to be a team that buys in on the defensive end to win games. In their last three games, all wins, the Heels have been solid. In Raleigh, the Wolfpack followed a big win over Duke with a disappointing loss to Maryland, a less-than-stellar win over Clemson and another loss to Wake Forest. Inconsistency still plagues NC State, and it will have to be something that's corrected if the Pack hope to get back on track against UNC. In big games against rivals, NC State's players (namely C.J. Leslie, Lorenzo Brown and Richard Howell) usually rise up to the challenge.
Pick: NCSU 81 UNC 75