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Louisville-North Carolina preview: Cards host slumping Tar Heels

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The unluckiest team in America comes to the KFC Yum Center on Saturday.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: MAR 14 ACC Tournament Louisville v North Carolina Photo by William Howard/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Louisville Cardinals (22-5, 13-3) vs. North Carolina Tar Heels (10-16, 3-12)

Game Time: 4:05 p.m.

Location: KFC Yum Center: Louisville, Ky.

Television: ESPN

Announcers: Karl Ravech (play-by-play) and Jimmy Dykes (analyst)

Favorite: Louisville by 9

Officials: Mike Eades, Brian O’Connell, Tim Clougherty

Series: North Carolina leads, 15-6

Last Meeting: North Carolina won 83-70 on March 14, 2019 in the ACC tournament quarterfinals in Charlotte

Series History:

Probable Starting Lineups:

Statistics:

Relevant Videos:

About North Carolina:

No team in America has had its struggles more documented this season than North Carolina. At 10-6 overall and 3-12 in the ACC, the Tar Heels are in the midst of their worst season under Roy Williams and one of the worst seasons in program history. UNC enters Saturday’s game against Louisville riding a six-game losing streak. It’s just the fourth time in the history of Carolina basketball that the team has lost six games or more in a row.

The other thing everyone knows about the Heels is that they’ve been incredibly unlucky all season long, but especially in the last few weeks. North Carolina has lost three of its last four games on their opponents’ last shot, including a home loss to Duke where the Blue Devils hit a shot at the buzzer of regulation to tie the game, and then won it at the buzzer in overtime. In total, the Tar Heels have lost six of their last 11 games by three points or less, and nearly all of those losses including an excruciatingly painful moment just before the final horn.

This next paragraph once again comes with the caveat that the numbers listed probably won’t be reflected by the team’s play inside the Yum Center. Having said that, this is a historically bad shooting North Carolina team. The Tar Heels rank 295th in the country in two-point percentage (.463), 334th in three-point shooting (.292), and 310th at the free-throw line (.660). UNC’s current team field goal percentage (41.4 percent) is its lowest since the 1959-60 season (41.3) and its three-point percentage (29.2 percent) is its lowest ever (previous low of 32.7 in 2015-16).

As you might expect, the result of this is the Heels aren’t scoring at the level UNC fans have become accustomed to. Carolina’s 71.1 points per game scoring average is its third lowest in the ACC Era (66.7 in 1981-82 and 68.5 in 1953-54, both pre-shot clock and pre-three-point shot) and ranks ninth in the conference at the moment. The Tar Heels have led the conference in scoring in three of the last four seasons, and ranked second in the category in the other year.

Individually, the Carolina player you’ve undoubtedly heard the most about this season has been freshman guard Cole Anthony (19.5 ppg). A top five player in the 2019 recruiting class and soon to be a lottery pick, Anthony has had, to put it mildly, an up-and-down first and only college season. After scoring 34 points on opening night, Anthony’s play was good not great before a knee injury in early December sidelined him for nearly two months. Since returning to the court on Feb. 1, Anthony has scored in double figures in every game he’s played, but hasn’t shot at least 50 percent from the field once.

Louisville can win even if Anthony goes off for 30+, it just has to make sure that it remains an inefficient 30+. Forcing the freshman into some turnovers — he averages 3.5 per game — would also be nice.

North Carolina’s most consistent player this season has been junior forward Garrison Brooks, a player who had been anything but in his first two seasons in Chapel Hill. The 6’9 Brooks averages 15.9 points and 8.5 rebounds per game, and has been especially stellar in UNC’s last two contests, scoring 22 and 20 points, respectively. Playing alongside the 6’10 Armando Bacot (10.1 ppg/8.4 rpg), Brooks could be a little bit of a matchup problem for Louisville when the Cards are in man.

Senior guard Brandon Robinson (12.9 ppg) has been Williams’ only other consistent scoring threat this season. Robinson, who also missed extended action because of an ankle injury, has hit double figures in 10 consecutive games and has been UNC’s most reliable outside threat, shooting the three at a 36.1 percent clip.

As for the rest of the Heels, Leaky Black is a tremendous defensive player who is more of a creator than a scorer on offense. Christian Keeling and Justin Pierce are low major transfers who have looked overwhelmed by everything all season long. Andrew Platek, a junior who averaged only 3.6 minutes per game, is playing 21 a night this season.

Despite all their struggles this season, there are a couple of things about North Carolina that have remained the same. The Tar Heels still want to get out and run, and get a healthy chunk of their offense out of their famed “secondary break.” They’re also still one of the best second chance opportunity teams in the country, grabbing an offensive rebound on 35.4 percent of their possessions, the 14th-best rate in all of college basketball.

Notable:

—Louisville is 19-0 when leading at halftime this season, and 3-5 when trailing at the break.

—Louisville enters Wednesday night ranked 9th in the NCAA’s NET Rankings. Syracuse is No. 94.

—Louisville’s 13-3 ACC start is its best in its six years in the conference and its best in any league since the Cardinals won the 2014 American Athletic Conference title with a 15-3 record.

—North Carolina has lost six times by three points or less in its last 11 games. This is the second time in UNC history and the first time since 1940-41 the Tar Heels have lost six games in a season by three points or less.

—The Tar Heels have lost six consecutive games for the first time since January, 2002. The program record for most consecutive losses is eight, set in 1950-51.

—North Carolina is 6-3 in ACC games against Louisville.

—Louisville is 15-1 at home this season and 7-1 in ACC home games.

—Louisville has made as many as nine three-pointers in a game on 16 occasions this season, including in six of its last eight games.

—Roy Williams is 8-3 against Louisville as UNC’s head coach and 9-4 against the Cardinals overall.

—A loss to Louisville on Saturday will set a new North Carolina record for ACC losses (13) in a single season.

—This is just the fourth time in program history North Carolina has lost double-digit ACC games.

—On nine occasions in North Carolina’s last 11 games, their opponents have scored the tying or winning points in the last 27 seconds of the second half or an overtime period – six of those nine have come with three seconds or less and four have scored with under a second remaining.

—Louisville is 11th in the nation in three-point field goal percentage (38.4 percent).

—Louisville enters Saturday ranked 16th in the nation in field goal percentage defense (.385), 19th in rebound margin (+6.6), 21st in scoring margin (+11.4) and 42nd in scoring defense (64.0).

—North Carolina is 212-9 all-time when shooting 50 percent or better from the field under Roy Williams.

—Louisville is 4-2 all-time in home games against North Carolina, and 2-2 against the Tar Heels in home games as a member of the ACC.

—North Carolina’s current team field goal percentage (.414) is its lowest since the 1959-60 season (.413) and its three-point percentage (.292) is its lowest ever (previous low of .327 in 2015-16).

—Louisville is 16-1 this season when holding opponents to 68 points or fewer, and 6-4 on the year when teams score more than 68.

—Louisville has won 161 consecutive games when holding an opponent under 50 points.

—Louisville has won 154 consecutive games when scoring at least 85 points in regulation.

—Louisville is one of just four schools which have won 20 or more games on the court in each of the last 19 seasons. Gonzaga, Duke and Kansas are the others.

Ken Pomeroy Prediction: Louisville 78, North Carolina 65