Marcus Paige vs. Cat Barber
You could say Paige likes to shoot at PNC Arena. In three career games on the Wolfpack’s home floor, the UNC senior has made 59.1 percent (13 of 22) of his 3-point shots. In every other ACC gym, Paige makes 35.1 percent of his 3-point shots.
Paige has struggled in particular this season from 3, making only 28.6 percent (24 of 84) of his 3s in ACC play. He has had four conference games this season when he has gone either 0-for-5 or 0-for-6 (including the first game against State) from beyond the arc.
Whether it’s N.C. State’s defense, the rims at PNC Arena or the Wilson brand ball the Wolfpack uses, Paige is a different shooter when he gets to Raleigh.
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Barber, who leads the ACC scoring, is in a mini-slump of his own. He has made just 5 of 23 shots in the past two games and been held to 12 points below his season average.
In the first game, UNC doubled Barber off high screens and held him to nine points, and shut him out in the second half.
Joel Berry vs. Cody Martin
Martin is hustle personified and the Wolfpack’s best perimeter defender. The sophomore guard will more than likely be matched up with Paige on defense.
With Paige playing more minutes at the point, that moves Berry, who has been UNC’s most consistent perimeter scorer, off the ball. Berry averages 12.1 points per ACC game, second on the team only to Brice Johnson, and has shown the most development of anyone on the talented roster.
Justin Jackson vs. Maverick Rowan
While Berry has taken a step forward, Jackson has been stuck in neutral this season. He hasn’t developed into the consistent halfcourt scoring option that Carolina needs to be a Final Four team. Most of his moments came early in the season when Paige was hurt. He has averaged 15.5 points over the past four ACC games and had eight assists in Saturday’s win over Miami.
With Terry Henderson’s injury, Rowan has had to play a bigger role as a freshman than he was ready for, but like Jackson, he has had his moments. Rowan had 20 points in Saturday’s win over Clemson and 22 in a home loss to Florida State.
If Rowan could shoot like he does in the final 5 minutes of the game for the whole game, he would be unstoppable.
Isaiah Hicks vs. Lennard Freeman
Hicks was custom made for Roy Williams’ offense. Like Jackson, more was expected of him this season but he hasn’t had the same opportunity as Jackson. Hicks moving into the starting lineup might be the spark that gets UNC on track for a long NCAA run.
Freeman hasn’t been the same player this season as he was as a sophomore. He has been slowed by his recovery from offseason surgery on his right leg. All of UNC’s bigs are a tough matchup for the undersized Freeman, who is a capable defender and strong rebounder.
Brice Johnson vs. Abdul-Malik Abu
The UNC senior is having an All-ACC season and has seen his scoring average jump from 12.9 points per game to 16.9. He has turned in two of the more incredible stat lines of the season with a 39-point, 23-rebound game at Florida State and a 29-point, 19-rebound game vs. Duke.
As good as Johnson has been, defense is not his forte. He got into early foul trouble in the first matchup with the Wolfpack and was largely ineffective with six points and two rebounds. You figure he will play better on Wednesday but Abu is a tough matchup for Johnson on defense and when Mark Gottfried goes with BeeJay Anya, Johnson will have to work for his points.
Only Barber has been better than Abu this season for State. The sophomore forward has double-doubles in 14 ACC games, including 17 points and 16 rebounds in Saturday’s win over Clemson.
Abu fouled out of the first meeting but had 12 points and 14 rebounds in 27 minutes.
Kennedy Meeks, who was recruited by N.C. State, terrorized the Wolfpack in the first game with 18 of his 23 points in the second half. With Abu in foul trouble and the Wolfpack wearing out, Meeks was too much to handle inside.
The junior forward was moved to the bench after the Duke loss. Who knows if he’ll have the same jump this time around but he has been good in his career against the Wolfpack.
Nate Britt and Theo Pinson are a pair of perimeter options who have the potential to be difference-makers if State goes zone. Britt had four assists and three steals in the first meeting.
Anya was huge in last year’s win in Chapel Hill and he had three blocks in the first meeting this season but he hasn’t been able to keep the weight off he lost in the offseason.
Sophomore guard Caleb Martin has been better since moving out of the starting lineup after the first UNC game. He had 16 points against Clemson and has the potential to get hot from 3.
Everybody plays a Super Bowl and there are ingredients there for this to be N.C. State’s. With the exception of a poor second half at Virginia, N.C. State has been in every ACC game. Seven of its 10 ACC losses have been by single digits. Maybe the crowd can provide some extra juice for the Wolfpack.
Gottfried has also shown a propensity for getting the best out of his teams at the end of the season. The win over Clemson might have been a spark.
For UNC, there are bigger goals down the road and even potentially bigger games ahead at PNC Arena, one of the sites of the NCAA tournament.
Edge: N.C. State