After this, it’s all conference play, all the time for North Carolina. The Tar Heels play their final non-conference game of the regular season at the Smith Center on Wednesday, against Monmouth. The Hawks might not have much brand name recognition, but they’re the favorites to represent the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference in the NCAA tournament.
Three things to know about UNC vs. Monmouth before the Tar Heels begin ACC play at Georgia Tech on Saturday:
1. It’s a homecoming for Monmouth coach King Rice.
A little more than 20 years before Rice became the head coach at Monmouth, he was a point guard at UNC and a tri-captain who helped lead the Tar Heels to the 1991 Final Four. During his years as an assistant coach at UNC, Roy Williams helped recruit Rice from Binghamton, N.Y., before Williams became the head coach at Kansas. Now Williams and Rice will be coaching against each other for the second time, and the first since January 2012. UNC and Monmouth played then in Rice’s first season as a head coach. The Hawks won 10, 12 and 11 games in Rice’s first three seasons, but they won 18 games during the 2014-15 season, and 28 a season ago.
2. The Tar Heels are still seeking a cure for its slow starts.
UNC didn’t have much trouble, especially after halftime, during an 85-42 victory against Northern Iowa on Dec. 21. The Tar Heels outscored the Panthers 52-16 in the second half of that game. But after 10 minutes UNC’s lead was three points, and the shaky start was another in a growing line of them. During the first 10 minutes of games against Indiana, Tennessee, Davidson, Kentucky and Northern Iowa, the Tar Heels were outscored by a combined 107-82. With conference play looming, that’s a trend UNC would like to reverse for good.
3. Approaching ACC play, UNC is excelling offensively and defensively.
The Tar Heels finished last season as the most efficient offensive team in the country, according to kenpom.com. Through 13 games they’re fourth nationally this season, and their defense has made significant strides. The Tar Heels rank ninth nationally in defensive efficiency, according to kenpom. That’s a measure of how well UNC limits teams from scoring on a per-possession basis. UNC is one of four teams – Duke, Kentucky and Kansas are the others – that rank in the top 10 nationally in both offensive and defensive efficiency.
Monmouth at No. 9 UNC
When: 7 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Smith Center, Chapel Hill