Carolina men's basketball (11-2) opens ACC play Saturday at the Dean Dome against Wake Forest following a break for Christmas. The Demon Deacons (7-5) last played in a 19-point loss to Tennessee.
About the Demon Deacons
Wake Forest is coming off a 19-14 season that ended with a loss to Kansas State in the First Four of the NCAA Tournament. The rebuilding Deacs lost 3 of its top 5 scorers from last year, including NBA first round pick John Collins.
The Demon Deacons had a disappointing non-conference showing this season that was punctuated by a 1-4 start to the year. Wake’s sole win over a major conference team was an 80-73 triumph over Illinois.
Players to Watch
The Deacs may be struggling this year, but they still have players that could give UNC trouble. Bryant Crawford and Keyshawn Woods are the first to come to mind.
Crawford, who was named to the preseason Cousy Award Watch list, is right behind Woods in scoring with 15.3 points per game. The guard leads the team in assists with 4.7 a game while averaging 2 steals per game. Crawford has averaged 20 points in his last two games against UNC and scored 21 against Duke last year. He likes big games, and UNC in Chapel Hill is a big one for Wake.
Woods is the team’s leading scorer while coming off the bench. The sixth man is scoring 16.0 points per game while dishing out nearly 2 assists per contest. Woods is one of Wake’s best 3-point shooters, so Carolina should be wary of him on defense.
Meanwhile, Doral Moore anchors the Deacon frontcourt. A heavy dunker, Moore leads the nation in field goal percentage and will look to get easy baskets inside. The junior often finds himself in foul trouble, though. Wake Forest is thin at forward behind Moore, so they can’t afford to lose him.
After an up-and-down nonconference slate, UNC will look to get off to a quick start in its ACC campaign. The Tar Heels dropped their conference opener last year against Georgia Tech. As a less talented squad than last season’s championship team, the Heels can’t afford a slow start in a stacked league.
Luckily for Carolina, its opponent isn’t equipped for an upset. Wake Forest has looked downright awful this year, and are just looking to not get run off the floor. With a tough closing schedule, UNC needs to take care of the easy ones. This is an easy one.
A year after UNC went undefeated in the Dean Dome, the Tar Heels lost at home to Wofford in one of the upsets of the year in college basketball. Carolina looked unmotivated and uninspired in that game, and the Heels will be looking to get back on track at home against Wake.
Johnson, who sat out the first eleven games of the year with a neck injury, made his UNC debut against Wofford. The graduate transfer has looked sharp in his two games of action, averaging 12 points while shooting 30% from 3.
UNC will need Johnson’s shooting and defense to compete in the ACC, and Saturday will be his first opportunity to prove he’s up to the task. The game should be a blowout, so it’s a perfect opportunity for Johnson to gauge his game against ACC competition.
The most exciting part of this game will be the halftime show. Unless John Collins suits up, UNC will blow out Wake Forest. Even that might not be enough. 85-63, UNC.
Photo by Smith Hardy