Louisville has been one of the more surprising teams this season and that kind of started when these teams first met. The Cardinals, coming off a loss to Pittsburgh, went into Chapel Hill and destroyed North Carolina, leading almost the entire way in an 83-62 win. The Tar Heels want some revenge and are playing well, but this is one of the harder Games they’ll have this season.
When they first met, Louisville couldn’t stop scoring with the help of 11 made threes and going 17-for-28 inside the arc. They turned it over 14 times, but that didn’t matter because the Heels shot a miserable 3-for-22 from distance and no one had more than 12 points. It’s likely this meeting will go a bit different because that was easily UNC’s worst performance of the season. Stud freshman Coby White finished with Four points even though he’s scored at least 15 in every other ACC contest.
The main thing that has to change for UNC is its defense and that’s possible. While the Heels continue to have poor numbers guarding the three, they rate well in most other categories in the Conference and are even Fourth in the ACC in terms of defensive efficiency. It’s likely Jordan Nwora (18.2 ppg) won’t make five threes again, while Dwayne Sutton and Christen Cunningham won’t combine to go 9-for-9 from two pointers. A drop in those numbers alone will make this a closer Game, but winning in Louisville is another story.
The Cardinals have one loss at home and that came against Kentucky, while they’ve also picked up huge wins against Michigan State and NC State. They’re playing their best basketball of the season with players other than Nwora (18.2 ppg) finally stepping up. No one else averages more than 10.5 points per Game, but Cunningham is averaging more than six assists over the last five Games and guys like Dwayne Sutton and Steven Enoch are scoring double digits almost every Game. Once a one-man team, Louisville now has a variety of scoring and that could again be a problem for an iffy UNC defense.
The difference is that North Carolina can’t play as bad as it did in that first Game. For starters, White and Cameron Johnson (15.8 ppg) probably won’t combine to go 0-for-7 from three again. Then there’s the improved play of Nassir Little off the bench, who is averaging almost 14 points per Game since the loss. The play of big men LUke Maye and Garrison Brooks could be most important for this Game, though, mainly because those two have faltered in a lot of big Games. To win on the road, they’ll need to win on the offensive glass, which is often a component for UNC’s great teams. The problem is that Enoch, Nwora and Malik Williams are all solid rebounders.
The first time these teams met was a bit of an outlier in that Louisville played its best possible Game and UNC its worst. Expect different things in this matchup, but playing at home, the Cardinals still have the size and talent to deal with the Heels and they could easily get the season sweep.
Our Pick – Louisville +2