Five Things to Watch as UNC Tips Off Battle 4 Atlantis vs. Alabama

Brant Wilkerson-New

North Carolina begins its run of three games in three days in the Bahamas on Wednesday (2:30 p.m., ESPN) vs. Alabama and first-year coach Nate Oats.

According to KenPom.com, the Tar Heels (4-0) have an 81 percent chance of victory over the Crimson Tide (3-1) as they begin the Battle 4 Atlantis.

Here’s what to watch for:

Defending the Arc

Alabama hasn’t shot a great percentage (29.1) from 3-point range, but that hasn’t stopped the Tide from putting them up, taking 43.3 percent of its field goal attempts from beyond the arc.

That’s been an area of concern for Carolina so far this season, as opponents have gotten 43.8 percent of their points on 3-pointers. Opponents are shooting just 27.3 percent against the Tar Heels, but that number is a bit misleading based on the amount of open looks Carolina has allowed.

That much was clear last week when Elon, one of the worst shooting teams in the country, made 12 3-pointers in the Smith Center after getting far too much room on the perimeter.

Giving up similar looks against a quality opponent like Alabama could be fatal.

Brandon is Back?

After warming up and dressing for the win over Elon, it’s likely Brandon Robinson will see his first action since the exhibition game vs. Winston-Salem State when he suffered a sprained ankle.

Most importantly, Robinson’s return will add a veteran presence for an inexperienced group on the perimeter. Beyond that, he’ll instantly become a threat from 3-point range after shooting 46 percent last season and help space the floor for a Carolina offense that hasn’t found its groove yet.

Experienced and 6-5, Robinson will give the Tar Heels another versatile defensive option with great length, too.

Managing Minutes

Robinson’s return is also important for the Tar Heels in giving them another body.

As of right now, Roy Williams is giving just 21.9 percent of available minutes to players of the bench — a number that ranks 329 nationally.

Cole Anthony has played 140 of a possible 160 minutes this season, getting his biggest rest against Gardner-Webb when he played 33 minutes. Garrison Brooks has played 135 and Leaky Black, coming off an ankle injury, has played 127.

With three games in three days, any amount of time on the bench Williams can get his starters will be valuable come Friday.

Another, Armando?

As discussed here, Armando Bacot is coming on strong over the past two games, averaging 17 points and 12.5 rebounds, and should get a good measure of where he’s at against high-major competition in the Bahamas.

Bacot has run the floor well and he made the most of his post opportunities. The next step is going up hard on every paint touch and keeping the ball high and out of the reach of smaller defenders.

Quickly, he’s established himself as Carolina’s best defensive rebounder, placing in the top 100 nationally according to KenPom.com, grabbing 29.4 percent of available boards. He’s also proven to be a pretty good rim protector and has handled his defensive responsibilities away from the paint as well as could be expected.

Bacot and Garrison Brooks have great potential in developing a high-low connection, as Brooks has shown off his passing ability several times in finding Bacot under the basket. Those haven’t always connected, but once they do, Bacot will be in for a few more easy buckets.

Meeting the Standard

Carolina hasn’t consistently played Carolina basketball this season, in both style and at the level expected within the program.

Energy has been lacking in slow starts at times, and last week, things were so poorly executed that Williams called what is believed to be the earliest timeout of his career.

Some mental mistakes are to be expected with this amount of roster turnover, but it’s been the same things in every game, and time and again, the Tar Heels have emerged from halftime playing better after a chat with Williams.

At some point, Carolina has to get to the point that it doesn’t take a speech from their coach to play to its potential.

After a week between games, it will be telling if the Tar Heels come out sloppy.

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