NCAA Scouting Report: North Carolina Tar Heels

Joel Berry – UNC vs. Butler

Anthony Crawford

In the Sweet Sixteen matchup against No. 3 UCLA, No. 2 UK men’s basketball played some of its best brand of basketball and advanced after a convincing 86-75 victory over the fellow blue-blood program. The road doesn’t get any easier, though, as up next for the Cats is the No. 1 North Carolina Tar Heels.

The two teams will meet for the second time this season, with this occasion carrying more consequences as a Final Four trip is on the line.

The first meeting was one of the most exciting games this season and had one of the greatest individual efforts from a UK player as Malik Monk dropped 47 points on the Tar Heels in the 103-100 UK victory.

The loss in Las Vegas was one of the few blemishes on the Tar Heels record in their non-conference slate. Despite a few miscues on the road during ACC play, UNC put up a strong showing in what was believed to be one of the country’s toughest conference and earned a No. 1 seed in the process. 

So far in the NCAA Tournament, a slight upset bid from Arkansas is the only thing that stands contrary to the Tar Heels looking like one of the most impressive teams in the field. The team had a lot less stress in its Sweet 16 game against Butler, as great offensive games from Joel Berry II and Justin Jackson powered them to a 92-80 win. 

Here’s what to know about the Tar Heels:

Head Coach: Roy Williams (14th season at UNC)

Record: 30-7 overall, 14-4 Atlantic Coast Conference

Starters: Joel Berry II (Junior, G, 6’0”, 195 lbs.)

Theo Pinson (Junior, G, 6’6”, 211 lbs.)

Justin Jackson (Junior, F, 6’8”, 210 lbs.)

Isaiah Hicks (Senior, F, 6’9”, 242 lbs.)

Kennedy Meeks (Senior, C, 6’10”, 260 lbs.) 

The high-scoring duo of Jackson and Berry leading the Tar Heels

While De’Aaron Fox going off against UCLA adds to his and Malik Monk’s case for being one of the better scoring combos in the nation, UNC has two dynamic scorers itself in juniors Justin Jackson and Joel Berry II. 

Jackson (18.2 points per game) and Berry (14.7 points per game) are the team’s two leading scorers on the year, and have recently carried the team to an overwhelming win over Butler in the Sweet Sixteen. The two combined for 50 of the Tar Heels’ 92 points against the Bulldogs and made a combined five threes.

The duo also makes a majority of the team’s outside scoring with a combined 182 three-pointers made on the season. Jackson pulls a majority of the weight in making up that number with 100 threes made on the season, which is more than the 68 three he had made in his first two seasons combined. Jackson has made strides in that area this season and even upped his percentage from his first to seasons to this season from 29.7 percent to 38.7 percent. 

On the season, UNC is 15-2 in games where Jackson and Berry knock down multiple shots from deep. But with one of those losses coming from the Tar Heels matchup with UK this season, the Cats know they can weather the storm of a good game from these two players. Jackson led UNC with 34 points in the loss. Berry was second on the team with 23 points.

Tar Heels will be a force on the glass

Going off that last note in the section above, the first game between these two teams continues to be an anomaly when considering the fact that it was one of only three games this season where North Carolina lost the rebound battle — UNC has an 0-3 record in those games (vs. UK, at Duke, at Miami).

The Tar Heels established themselves as one of the best teams in that category and can boast nationally leading numbers in rebounds per game (43.7) and rebounding margin (13.1) as a result. The rebounding margin is the second highest of any team since 1980.

UNC is led by seniors Kennedy Meeks (9.1) and Isaiah Hicks (5.6) in the rebounding category, and do a majority of their damage on the offensive glass to give the team second chance points.

The Tar Heels are 27-4 on the season when they pull down more offensive rebounds than their opponent — UK again being one of those losses — and as a result have 16 games this season where they have scored 20 or more second chance points.

UNC was missing a key player in the first matchup against UK

Whether it be because UNC actually did play really well in the loss in the regular season meeting with UK or because all anyone cared about was Monk because of his 47 points, a big factor in the game was the Tar Heels missing junior Theo Pinson.

Pinson missed the first 16 games of the season while recovering from a broken bone in his foot, and then missed another three games later in the season with an ankle injury.

In the first game, UNC likely missed Pinson for what he could have given the team on the defensive end. As a 6’6”, long guard he would have likely drawn Monk as his defensive assignment and could have been the difference between him just have a great game instead of an historically great one. 

“We talked about this a couple times,” UNC’s Kennedy Meeks said Saturday. “Maybe if Theo was playing, Malik only has 30 points and we still win the game. That’s just the type of effect that he has.”

Pinson also gives UNC another playmaker on the floor. In the time that he has played for the Tar Heels, Pinson leads the team in assist-to-turnover ratio with 67 assists to 26 turnovers (2.6 to 1). He has also lead the team in assists eight times this season, which is important as he has struggled shooting the ball lately, going 10-for-38 in his last eight games.