- Robbi Pickeral, College Basketball
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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Besides the return of big man Reggie Johnson, who had been sidelined because of a broken thumb, there’s not a whole lot different about Miami since North Carolina lost to the Hurricanes on Jan. 10, Tar Heels coach Roy Williams said.
Well, except this: “They’re better now than we were when we played them,” he said. “I hope we’re a heck of a lot better than when we played them the last time.”
The Heels will need to be.
The experienced, deep Hurricanes were still a team in question (How good are they? Can they win without Johnson?) when they dropped the Tar Heels to 0-2 in league play at the Smith Center last month. Since that victory -- UM’s third straight at the time -- they have kept on winning, have risen to No. 8 in the Associated Press poll and are the only undefeated team in ACC play.
The Tar Heels, meanwhile, have won six of seven, but even UNC's players concede they haven’t quite put all the pieces together yet. Now is the time, though, because after playing at the Hurricanes, they face another top-10 team on the road: No. 4 Duke, on Wednesday.
Williams said there will be “100 things” that will determine his team’s success, including “our focus, our sense of urgency, whether the ball goes in the basket. The way I look at it, it’s nine games like that. I can’t remember what the third game is after that, but that’s a game I’ll worry about. I don’t remember what the fourth game is, but I know it’s a game I’m going to worry about. Because we’re in the second half of conference play, and it’s a pretty good league.”
A few things to watch during the game, which tips off at 2 p.m. ET Saturday:
The 6-foot-10, 292-pound Miami center hasn’t returned to his double-double form since he returned from his injury earlier than expected five games ago. But he has made an impact. He scored the winning tip-in to keep his team’s streak alive at then-No. 19 NC State last weekend and has been a load to handle on the boards, averaging 7.6 rebounds since he came back.
Former Tar Heels forward Tyler Zeller, now a rookie in the NBA, used to say Johnson was the most exhausting player to face in the ACC because of his size and aggression. Thus, he’ll be a load for UNC’s thinner front line, especially because Miami has so many other big guys (Julian Gamble, Kenny Kadji) to deal with.
JAMES MICHAEL MCADOO
UNC's sophomore forward has been more aggressive and confident of late, and it has showed up on the stat sheet. He has posted four double-doubles in his past four games and averaged 21.5 points in his past two outings, and Williams wants it to continue.
“I think he is getting better,” Williams said. “He’s concentrating even better on his shot. Most of James Michael’s [problems] are when you go too fast, shoot it too quickly. When you make shots, that makes you a little more enthused on the other end, also.”
The Tar Heels have beaten the Hurricanes five straight times in Miami. One key: UNC has outrebounded UM in all five games. Entering Saturday, the Tar Heels lead the league in offensive rebounds at 13 per game. Only two teams other than North Carolina and Duke have started ACC play 9-0: Virginia in 1980-81 and NC State in 1972-73. Miami is the eighth-most experienced team in the country, according to KenPom.com. The Hurricanes average 2.39 years of experience per player. They’re the most experienced squad among "power six" teams. In case you missed it, the Tar Heels will be wearing special Nike Hyper Elite road uniforms featuring the interlocking N-C on the front of their jerseys.
ESPN Stats & Information contributed to this report.