North Carolina vs. Clemson Preview: Can UNC’s Streak Continue?
On Sunday, the North Carolina Tar Heels take on the Clemson Tigers in the Dean E. Smith Center, a venue that has not been so friendly to the Tigers in the past. How unfriendly has the Dean Dome been to the Tigers? Well, they have never won a game in it, and they have only finished within single-digits eight times. They are a staggering 0-56 when they play the Tar Heels on the road, but many Tar Heel fans fear that that losing streak will come to end considering the struggle that the team is enduring this season.
The Tigers are led in scoring by junior forward K.J. McDaniels, and at 6-foot-6, he is a threat both in the back and the frontcourt. This is where Leslie McDonald will need to come up huge defensively. He is a guard, but with his size he can match up with most forwards in the ACC. Despite needing a big defensive game out of McDonald, his shooting percentage desperately needs improvement. He is getting more than enough opportunities each game to knock down threes, but he is only making about two per game. Aside from McDaniels, the Tigers are also led by Rod Hall who averages about 10 points per game. The guard will hopefully be neutralized by Marcus Paige who has struggled immensely as of late. Paige is a star, don’t get me wrong, but ever since conference play began he has not played up to his star caliber. He is only averaging 12.6 points per game in ACC play, and his shooting has been anything but stellar. If McDonald and Paige can get their shooting games back on track then Clemson will have no answer.
James Michael McAdoo is coming off a game against Virginia in which he scored his 1,000 career point, and he seems like the only player on the court for the Tar Heels with any sort of momentum. The last thing the team needs is for him to collapse and go back to the way he played to start the season, so a strong showing from him against Clemson would be key. Another player the Tar Heels need to continue to step up is Kennedy Meeks, their rising freshman forward. The team is 5-1 when Meeks scores in the double-digits, and he is coming off a 15-point performance that led the Tar Heels in scoring against Virginia. The Tar Heels’ starters cannot do it all and that is blatantly obvious, so Meeks along with the other bench players must come into the game and execute. Brice Johnson used to come off the bench and have huge games in terms of scoring, rebounding and momentum-shifting plays, but he has struggled to get the ball in the net since ACC play started. Momentum is the main key to the Tar Heels’ success, and Johnson needs to get back to being the catalyst.
Clemson may be 13-5, but they really only have one relevant win the entire season. They defeated Duke a few weeks ago quite handily, but other than that they lost their only other game against a ranked team to No. 20 Pittsburgh. While they are still searching for another statement win in the conference, the Tar Heels are just searching for another win. They are 1-4 in the ACC, and they find themselves only in front of two other teams in the standings. Their record does not reflect the talent that they possess as a team, but it does reflect the lack of momentum and the amount of stupid mistakes they have made in their most recent games. One more loss and the Tar Heels might as well kiss their NCAA tournament hopes goodbye. If they believe that they deserve a spot in the tournament and think they have the talent necessary to be successful in the conference, then the results will reflect their beliefs. Right now, it seems like everyone on the roster has already given up on trying to win. I guess we will see how this attitude plays out in the matchup against Clemson, but going into the game, that long home winning streak is in a great deal of jeopardy.