No. 7 Louisville at No. 8 North Carolina
When: 9 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Smith Center, Chapel Hill, N.C.
TV/Radio: ESPN (Dan Shulman, Jay Bilas). Internet live-stream: WatchESPN app. Radio: 106.1-WTKK; SiriusXM channel 84.
Projected starting lineups
North Carolina (23-5, 11-3 ACC)
G Joel Berry 14.6 ppg, 4 apg
G Theo Pinson 7.1 ppg, 4.7 rpg
F Justin Jackson 18.6 ppg, 4.7 rpg
F Isaiah Hicks 12.5 ppg, 5.5 rpg
F Kennedy Meeks 12.6 ppg, 9.1 rpg
Louisville (22-5, 10-4)
G Quentin Snider 12.5 ppg, 4.1 apg
G Donovan Mitchell 15.6, 4.7 rpg
F Deng Adel 11.3 ppg, 4.5 rpg
F Jaylen Johnson 8.4 ppg, 6.4 rpg
C Mangok Mathiang 7 ppg, 6.1 rpg
▪ A playoff game for the ACC regular season championship
The Tar Heels remain in first place in the ACC, with a one-game lead over Louisville and Duke and a two-game lead – in the loss column – over Florida State and Notre Dame. This essentially amounts to a playoff game for the ACC regular season championship. A victory brings UNC one victory closer to clinching at least a share of the regular season title. A Louisville win, meanwhile, keeps alive the Cardinals’ chances – and creates a three-way tie (in the loss column) atop of the league standings. Some major ACC tournament seeding implications are in play here, as well.
▪ Top-five offense vs. a top-five defense
UNC has been a juggernaut on offense throughout most of the season, and Justin Jackson, the junior wing forward, seems to be gaining momentum as we approach March. Louisville, meanwhile, has one of the best defenses in the country. The Tar Heels are among the five most efficient offensive teams nationally, according to kenpom.com, and the same is true for Louisville defensively. UNC must be prepared to handle the Cardinals’ defensive pressure, and particularly the press, which is a staple of Rick Pitino-coached teams. UNC does love to run, though – and there should be opportunities to do so against Louisville. This will be a vastly different kind of game than the one UNC just played against Virginia.
▪ Scouting Louisville: The Cardinals aren’t averse to running and playing at a faster pace, and they can be quite efficient offensively – as they were during a 94-90 victory against Virginia Tech on Saturday. Louisville’s defense, though, forces teams to take a lot of time off of the shot clock. Opponents are averaging 18.5 seconds per possession, according to kenpom.com, and only four teams are forcing opposing offenses to use more time. Defensively, this is a difficult match-up for UNC (and for anyone). Quentin Snider and Donovan Mitchell comprise as good of a backcourt as there is in the ACC. On the inside Mangok Mathiang and Anas Mahmoud are two of the best shot-blockers in college basketball, and Louisville ranks among the top 10 nationally blocked shot percentage.