North Carolina vs. Florida State Preview: Must-Win Game for Surging Tar Heels

By Jeremy Roth
North Carolina Tar Heels
Liz Condo-USA TODAY Sports

The North Carolina Tar Heels are currently embracing a six-game win streak in the ACC, and they plan to take down Florida State tonight to not only increase the streak, but to gain even more momentum for their upcoming matchup against Duke.

Florida State is currently struggling in the ACC, with a record of 6-7 in the conference and 15-10 on the season, but the Tar Heels cannot take it lightly under any circumstances. It is a scrappy team that can do some damage from beyond the arc, and the fact that the Tar Heels are playing it on the road makes this game much more difficult to win.

The Seminoles are led in scoring by sophomore guard Aaron Thomas with 13.5 points per game, and he is also one of the team’s leading three-point shooters. Ian Miller leads the team in three-pointers made this season with 47, and he is the Seminoles’ second leading scorer with 13.3 points per game. All of Florida State’s success lies within its backcourt, so it us up to Marcus Paige and Leslie McDonald to lead the charge defensively throughout tonight’s game.

Speaking of Paige and McDonald, the two must also give the Tar Heels a dual scoring threat from beyond the arc. Paige lit it up from three-point range last game against Pittsburgh with four of his own, but McDonald is still struggling to get any type of scoring game going. The ACC is filled with solid shooting teams, and if the Tar Heels plan to continue to climb up in the standings, then they need to conform.

The team’s lack of a three-point shooting game has not mattered much as of late considering the stellar play of James Michael McAdoo in the the frontcourt. In the Pittsburgh game, he scored 24 points along with 12 rebounds to earn himself the honor of ACC Player of the Week. He is finally playing at the top of his game, and the Tar Heels cannot afford to let him get cold at this crucial point in the season. Another solid game from McAdoo tonight will allow him to carry that momentum into Thursday’s Duke game, so tonight cannot be the night that he decides to play like the old McAdoo.

As for the rest of the Tar Heels’ frontcourt, Kennedy Meeks‘ play as of late has been very concerning. He is getting into foul trouble way too early in games, and opposing defenses just are not falling for his head fakes anymore. Meeks is only a freshman, so his play is bound to improve moving forward, but right now the Tar Heels need him to be just a little productive alongside McAdoo.  

Roy Williams cannot afford to put Brice Johnson back in the starting lineup because he is simply not ready for that kind of spotlight as seen in past games, and his presence off the bench has been the catalyst for the team’s momentum throughout their win streak. If Meeks can play no-mistake basketball, and Johnson can come into the game and continue to be the dominant force he has been all season, then the Tar Heels will annihilate the Seminoles’ big men.

J.P. Tokoto has also been stellar throughout the team’s win streak, and his athleticism is truly one of a kind. He failed to get a scoring game going against Pittsburgh, so that needs to change tonight, but he has had 22 steals in the Tar Heels’ last nine games which is a crucial statistic. As long as he is getting it done defensively, then I am not too concerned with the fact that his scoring numbers have declined.

The Tar Heels need all the momentum they can get for the Duke matchup on Thursday. It is unfortunate that they have to play all of these vital conference games in a short span of time as a result of last week’s snow storm, but if they continue to play with the sense of urgency they have showed as of late, then they could defeat any team in the ACC.

If the Tar Heels guard the perimeter closely, get a three-point shooting game of their own from Paige and McAdoo and improve their free-throw shooting, then they will be looking forward to a game against Duke that could decide the top seeds for the conference tournament. Momentum is everything in the ACC, and tonight’s game against Florida State is yet another opportunity for the Tar Heels to increase their already abundant supply.

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