The more I’ve thought about this game, the more I’ve started to think it’s a bit underwhelming. If you look at it from an outsiders’ perspective, it’s not even really that exciting. UNC limps in at 12-7 overall and 1-3 in the ACC, reeling from three straight losses in the last 10 days. NC State comes in 13-7 and 2-4 in conference play and is coming off a blowout loss to Maryland Saturday. Can you say not interesting?
But then I stop myself and remember, this is NC STATE vs NORTH CAROLINA! Records, rankings and conference standings don’t matter. Too bad they don’t, because the fact that UNC is out of the Top 25 and currently No. 11 in the ACC is a great talking point. Anyway, moving on.
Tonight’s battle between the Heels and Wolfpack is crucial on many levels, and not simply because it’s a rivalry game (check out tobaccordshow’s post on the importance of the rivalry). Carolina needs a victory in the worst way and has to be viewing the game as a must-win. NC State could pull closer to .500 in league play with a win and pick up its second victory over a Big Four rival in the last six days.
On that note, this Carolina team is extremely beatable. For the first time in a long time the Heels look vulnerable. Adam Gold and Joe Ovies talk some about the mindset of Carolina fans in this video on WRAL.
An important factor for tonight’s game will be the health of UNC big man Ed Davis. Roy Williams said Monday that Davis was “very questionable” to play. If he can’t go or is ineffective, NC State’s potential for winning the game goes way up. It’s tough to know if this is a little bit of gamesmanship by Williams, but regardless, Davis’ health is important.
Here’s a piece on the rivalry from Tony Haynes.
NC State men’s basketball coach Sidney Lowe said the Wolfpack had a very good practice on Monday morning, but given the fact that rival North Carolina is next up on the schedule, he didn’t expect anything less.
“If you can’t get ready to play in this game on either side, then there’s a problem,” Lowe said. “You’re at the wrong school and made a bad choice. It’s as simple as that.”
And desperation could and should be in plentiful supply when the Tar Heels (12-7, 1-3) and Wolfpack (13-7, 2-4) face off for the 216th time at the RBC Center on Tuesday night. Tip-off time is set for 9:05 p.m.
Following last Wednesday’s emotional and well-played 88-74 victory over nationally ranked Duke, NC State came back down to earth and tasted a little humble pie over the weekend, falling big at Maryland, 88-64. On Tuesday, the Wolfpack will be looking to knock off Duke and North Carolina in the same season for the first time since 2003.
Here’s your keys to the game:
Force turnovers/don’t commit them
As is the case with every game, turnovers will be key. NC State has been much better recently taking care of the ball and the proof is in the pudding. In its last three times out, against two ranked teams and ACC leader Maryland, NC State has turned it over 31 times combined. Against Duke, Javi Gonzalez, Julius Mays and Farnold Degand turned the ball over only three times and handed out 14 assists. If the Wolfpack can take care of the ball Tuesday night it should be in good shape. Conversely, if the Pack can force turnovers by pressuring the relatively inexperienced back court of the Heels it will be a huge plus.
Get Tracy Smith involved early and often
Teams have consistently doubled Tracy Smith throughout the year and he’s continued to produce points and rebounds. NC State should look to get him involved early and attempt to get Deon Thompson or whoever the Heels decide to put on him in foul trouble.
Force Carolina to shoot the ball from the outside
Aside from Will Graves, who is streaky at best, Carolina has no credible threat from outside. Carolina wants to pound the ball inside and get its big men involved. The Wolfpack will need to be sharp with its double teams and rotations on the defensive end throughout the night. That being said, NC State can’t get in foul trouble.
Feed off the crowd
The crowd at the RBC Center Tuesday night could be a big factor in the momentum and eventual outcome of the game. Watching the Duke game last week it was obvious the team fed off the noise. If NC State can get a lead early and play the style of game it did against the Blue Devils last week, the crowd could be huge.
I’m excited for another opportunity to see the Wolfpack play. I don’t know what it is, but I like watching this team and watching them take on Carolina is certainly a great way to spend a Tuesday night in January.
For a little more discussion, there are a few related threads on our message boards that you can easily access by clicking here.
Check Twitter during the game. Assuming AT&T’s 3G service is fine, I’ll post some stuff.