Photo by Caleb Jones
North Carolina’s West Coast trip, highlighted by the PK80 Tournament, will kick off tonight against Stanford (3-1) in the third game of the season. It will be the first away game of the year for the Tar Heels.
About the Cardinal
Stanford is coming off a 14-17 season that included only six conference wins. The Cardinal, which boasts the Pac-12’s top returning scorer in forward Reid Travis, are expected to fare better this year. The team was picked to finish fifth by league coaches in the preseason poll.
So far, Stanford has been solid, but not impressive. The Cardinal beat Cal Poly, Pacific and Northeastern and lost to Eastern Washington. Second-year coach and former North Carolina assistant Jerod Haase is looking to lead Stanford to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2014. A home game against the ninth-ranked team in the country, the PK80 Tournament and a competitive Pac-12 will provide plenty of chances to pick up résumé-boosting wins to help him do so.
Players to Watch
Stanford, like previous Tar Heel opponents Northern Iowa and Bucknell, is anchored by a solid frontcourt. Travis, a senior who has improved statistically each year in college, averaged 17.4 points and 8.9 rebounds last season. This year, the forward is scoring 21.3 points and bringing down 6.8 rebounds per game.
Michael Humphrey, another senior forward, is second on the team in scoring with 12.8 points per game. The 6-9 big man is also corralling 12.5 rebounds per competition. The Tar Heel forwards will have their hands full with Travis and Humphrey.
Meanwhile, the Cardinal backcourt is led by senior Dorian Pickens. The 6-5 guard, who, along with Travis, was the only other double-digit scorer for Stanford last year. He is averaging 10.5 points per game this season.
Stanford also boasts a strong freshman class that was ranked No. 13 by 247 Sports. Wings Daejon Davis and Kezie Okpala, both top 50 recruits, join forward Oscar de Silva to give the Cardinal quality depth. Okpala has yet to play due to academic issues, but Davis and de Silva have combined for 13.1 points per game so far this year.
The Tar Heel coaching tree
Haase, who played under Roy Williams at Kansas and then served as an assistant coach at Carolina from 2003-12, is one of many coaches with North Carolina roots in college basketball. Earlier this year, the Tar Heels hosted the Disaster Relief Jamboree, which included three such coaches in ECU’s Jeff Lebo, UNCG’s Wes Miller and UNCW’s C.B. McGrath.
Haase and Williams, who have been close friends for years, will no doubt exchange pleasantries before and after the game. During competition, though, the two coaches will be seeking to exploit the other. Who will win the classic battle of teacher versus pupil?
Can Sterling Manley continue his hot start?
Jalek Felton and Garrison brooks were the headliners in North Carolina’s 2017 recruiting class, but forward Sterling Manley has been the one to steal the spotlight thus far. The 6-10 freshman is second on the team with 12.5 points and ranks third in the ACC with 10.5 rebounds per game while only averaging 15.5 minutes of playing time.
The Ohio native has also been impressive on defense, as he forced multiple turnovers when guarding Bucknell’s Nana Foulland in the last game. The Tar Heels need their young players to step up in Cameron Johnson’s absence, and Manley has answered the bell.
Will Theo Pinson figure it out?
While Sterling Manley has exceeded expectations, senior Theo Pinson has failed to meet his. The forward is shooting a putrid 33 percent from the field, including a 1-9 mark from three. Pinson is not a shooter and has never been a consistent scoring threat, but a poor start to the season has not discouraged the senior from continuing to pull the trigger.
With Joel Berry II, Luke Maye and Kenny Williams all scoring from outside, the Heels don’t need Pinson to shoot 3’s. Instead, Carolina needs its Swiss Army Knife to do what he is best at, which is passing (Pinson is fourth in the ACC in assists), driving to the basket and playing lock-down perimeter defense.
The atmosphere in sold-out Maples Pavilion will no doubt be raucous for the Big Monday matchup. The game will be close early, but Carolina has too much firepower for the Cardinal. The Tar Heels will win 87-75.