Five Things to Watch as UNC Meets Ohio State: Pushing the Pace, Armando Bacot and Injuries

Brant Wilkerson-New

North Carolina returns home on Wednesday night (9:30 p.m., ESPN) as Ohio State visits Chapel Hill for the final game of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

Here’s what to watch for at the Smith Center as the seventh-ranked Tar Heels (6-1) meet the sixth-ranked Buckeyes (7-0): 

Setting the Pace

Ohio State wants to slow it down. Carolina wants to speed it up. Roy Williams wants to speed it up even more.

Although they made some progress at times in the Bahamas, the Tar Heels aren’t getting what they want in transition.

“We’re still not playing at the pace I want to play at,” Williams said. “We’ve got to work on that because our offense is not very good.”

It’s not as simple as just running the floor though.

Part of it is defense, as Carolina currently ranks 340 nationally in defensive turnover rate and 296 in steal rate, meaning it hasn’t been able to get the kind of easy fast-break opportunities that result in easy buckets at the rim and transition threes. That also means fewer opportunities on the secondary break, where the Tar Heels are able to take advantage of a flustered defense and mismatches to score.

Part of it is offense, too, where Williams hasn’t been pleased with his team’s ability to transition from its primary and secondary break offenses into a free-flowing attack toward the end of the shot clock.

Ohio State, which averages 66 possessions and 17.7 seconds per offensive trip, is averaging 78.3 points. Carolina, at 72 possessions and 16 seconds per trip, is averaging 74.4 points.

“We’re trying really, really hard to play at a lot faster pace, so they’re being more successful playing at their pace than we are trying to play at ours,” Williams said.

All-In

After Carolina’s loss to Michigan on Thursday, Garrison Brooks and Brandon Robinson led a players’-only meeting.

“We realized that we weren’t invincible and that we could lose,” freshman Armando Bacot said. “After that game, we had a team meeting and we just knew we all had to play for each other.”

The Tar Heels did just that on Friday vs. Oregon, delivering what was easily their most complete performance of the season.

“I think we were really in — all-in — in the Oregon game for the first time this year of being excited, being together and trying to take care of everybody, taking care of your teammate, playing harder during that point,” Williams said.

A similar effort for a second straight game would be a major step for this team.

Who’s in, who’s out?

Garrison Brooks was slowed by a scratched cornea, but he’s healthy and ready to go for Wednesday.

For Tuesday afternoon’s practice, Williams planned to have Cole Anthony and Leaky Black work on a limited basis.

Anthony, who was adamant that he’d be fine this week, was spotted by Ross Martin of Inside Carolina wearing a walking boot in the Nassau airport and Black was battling a toe injury on Thursday and Friday that eventually sent him to the bench.

As Carolina’s second ballhandler, Black’s status will be a concern heading into Wednesday, but if he’s limited or unable to play, K.J. Smith would likely pick up a few minutes as he did on Friday, playing nine minutes with two assists and a turnover.

“He’s been through our stuff in practice much moreso than Leaky or Cole,” Williams said. “So, it was something that I felt like we should do at that moment and I think he did some good things for us.”

Mondo Numbers

Bacot took another step to remove doubts regarding who would emerge as the second scorer for Carolina this season, averaging 13.6 points and 11 points in the Bahamas, including a 23-point, 12-rebound, 6-block effort in the finale.

Perhaps most useful though was Bacot’s worst game, shooting 3 of 10 from the field with six points and six rebounds against Michigan and 7-1 senior Jon Teske.

“I kind of got my butt whupped,” he said.

It was a hands-on class in dealing with more experienced players that showed Bacot he needs to take care of the details and be himself. He explained what Teske taught him.

“The little things, getting better position and doing what I do everyday,” Bacot said. “I feel like against Teske, I kind of got out of my game and tried to do different stuff.”

Against the Buckeyes, Bacot will likely match up with 6-9, 270-pound junior Kaleb Wesson (12.7 points, 9.3 rebounds).

Late Night with Roy

Count Williams as a vocal opponent of the 9:30 p.m. tipoff.

“I’m just trying to figure out where the hell intelligence plays into it,” Williams said. “I guess that’s the biggest thing, trying to figure out why somebody thinks that’s a good thing to do for any college athletic event.”

The late tip, which could be pushed back a few minutes to accommodate the early game on ESPN, certainly changes up the routine.

“In case you can’t figure out, I frickin’ hate it,” he said. “It’s ridiculous … nobody can tell me this is an intelligent thing to do.”

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