The 16th ranked North Carolina Tar Heels will play the Runnin’ Rebels of UNLV in the first round of the Maui Invitational Tournament to be played in Asheville, North Carolina, at the Harrah's Cherokee Center – Asheville (due to pandemic concerns) at 7 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. This will be the first meeting amongst these two teams since 2012 when the Tar Heels were able to pick up a six-point home win in addition to covering the spread as two point favorites. Currently, the Tar Heels are favored by 12.5 points while the total stands at 151 points for this contest.
The Tar Heels certainly got their season off to a winning start as they were able to roll by 19 points over the College of Charleston Cougars as they began to pull away in the second half en route to a 19-point victory. Important to note that North Carolina also covered as 17.5 point favorites in this contest. UNLV, on the other hand, was not as fortunate in their opening matchup of the season November 25th versus the Bobcats of Montana State as they went down by 18 points early and despite outscoring Montana State by five in the final half, fell by 13 points, thus failing to cover as 12 point favorites. One can certainly expect the Runnin’ Rebels to enter this contest with a ton of intensity and focus as they certainly do not want to begin the season at 0-2.
Tar Heels seek to atone for down year in 2019After a down year last season for the Tar Heels in going just 13-18 on the season, it can be said that they certainly ended the season on a strong note in picking up wins in three of their last four outings, including going 3-1 I against the number during this time. North Carolina started their 2020 season off much the same way as they were able to beat up on the Cougars at home thanks to a huge defensive performance that allowed only 40% shooting to their opponents in addition to forcing 13 total turnovers as well. It can be said, however, that the College of Charleston certainly did not do themselves any favors in shooting just 40% from the free throw line; However, they were able to make the game interesting due to their ability to shoot 35% from long range.
Nonetheless, the defense was the saving grace for UNC in this contest as the Tar Heels were dismal shooting the ball finishing the game shooting just 39% from the floor, including 4-18 from long range. They were , however, able to get to the free-throw line, however, as they shot 19-21 for the game while also outrebounding College of Charleston by a huge margin of 46-31 for the contest. Furthermore, forward Day’Ron Sharpe along with Armando Bacot were very efficient as they combined to shoot 8 - 13 from the floor while going 9-12 from the free throw line to end with 13 points and 10 rebounds along with 12 points and eight boards, respectively. It should also be noted that guard RJ Davis also had a pretty efficient day from the floor as he ended the contest going 4-9 along with 1-3 from three-point range to finish with 11 points and four rebounds.
Senior forward Garrison Brooks along with freshman guard Leaky Black struggled throughout the night as they combined to go just 5 - 18 from the floor, including 0-2 from long range. Nonetheless, Brooks , despite leading the team with four turnovers, was certainly active on the boards as he finished the contest with 11 rebounds along with six points .
The Tar Heels may very well have their fair share of opportunities on the offensive end of the floor in this contest as UNLV simply was not able to find any consistency on the defensive end lay versus Montana State. On the other hand, it is important to note that North Carolina will certainly have to hunker down on the defensive end of the floor as UNLV has proven that they can put the ball in the basket, both from the field as well as from long range.
UNLV needs a much better defensive showing versus UNCThe offense for UNLV was certainly not the problem in their loss versus the Bobcats as the team shot decently from the floor at 45% while connecting on 11 treys for the contest. In addition to this, the Running Rebels also went 17-21 from the free throw line; However, the Runnin’ Rebels were slightly outrebounded for the contest in addition to having a total of 18 turnovers, with six happening to be by their leading scorer guard Bryce Hamilton, who ended the game with 27 points along with eight rebounds on 10-19 shooting .
Important to note that guard Caleb Grill was the only other starter in double figures with 13 points for UNLV along with pulling down two rebounds and two assists while also racking up three turnovers of his own. Finally, the remainder of the starters went a combined 6 - 18 from the floor along with 2-6 from long range to post a total of 17 points among themselves, with guard Marvin Coleman struggling in going 3-8 from the floor for 8 points and five assists in addition to committing four costly turnovers.
Nonetheless, the defense for UNLV must certainly play better versus the Tar Heels as North Carolina, despite struggling offensively early on, will certainly be seeking an opportunity to put some points on the board and gain a bit of confidence as the season slowly moves forward. In other words, this means that the Runnin Rebels cannot allow over 50% shooting to the Tar Heels as they did with the Bobcats. In addition to this, UNLV had issues related to foul trouble versus Montana State as they were able to get to the foul line a total of 24 times for the contest, making 20 one of those shots.
Furthermore, it should be mentioned that UNLV has allowed 91 points in two straight games entering this contest. Yet, the Runnin’ Rebels are coming off a 2019 campaign where they allow just 42% shooting to opponents along with 34% shooting from three-point range in addition to giving up a tad over 70 points per game .
Stats & Trends
- Tar Heels are 6-3 ATS in last 9 games
- Running Rebels are 0-5 in last 5 neutral site games
While the Tar Heels certainly struggled in their first contest of the season, the fact is that they were able to rely on their defense in order to pick up a 19-point win and cover the spread. UNLV, on the other hand, played little to no defense in their huge loss to Montana State, as pointed out. And while their offense was certainly able to put some points on the board, expect them to have a more difficult task in this contest versus an athletic defense for North Carolina. Also, I also expect North Carolina to have a much better performance on the offensive end of the floor versus UNLV as I see them pulling away from a Runnin' Rebels team that may likely have lingering issues on the defensive end throughout 2020.