Thrillis4: Is this the biggest ACC home basketball game in recent memory? Because it certainly feels that way to me.
Steven: It’s been a minute since you could figure that an early-January basketball game could have actual stakes for NC State, but here we are. After Tuesday night, NC State has five straight against teams ranked lower in the Pomeroy Ratings. Getting past UNC gives the Pack a route to a potentially great first half of league play, and from there who knows? So yeah, this is big.
TheRealEssad: Dadgum heck yes. UNC tries to make it seem like these not-rivalry games mean more to us than them. But in this case, there is some truth. Kevin Keatts has already proven he can lead teams to victory over ranked opponents. But to do it when highly ranked, favored, in a rivalry game with a hyped up crowd? These factors haven’t come around Raleigh for a very long time. KK got his first ACC win at home against #2 Duke just last season. But that was as an underdog. State’s current ranking changes this game. A culture of winning is built from winning when it’s expected. This is why KK is right, no more court storming, kids.
PirateWolf: It has to be. I’m sure there have been bigger ones in terms of immediate impact following the game (ACC Tourney seeding, NCAA Tourney implications, etc.), but none immediately come to mind, so - yeah - this is it.
Thrillis4: UNC has been a really tough team for me to figure out. Do you think we’ll see the team that whupped Gonzaga, or will they struggle?
Steven: The Tar Heels did what they do to a certain extent--score well in the paint, dominate the glass--but they also finished that one 13-25 from three. If that happens on Tuesday ... I will be surprised. But you can expect the Carolina offense to score it effectively anyhow.
TheRealEssad: Oh, if anyone thinks UNC is coming out flat, you are sorely mistaken. I firmly believe Roy tells his guys to purposely lay red herrings of this not being a big deal because he really, REALLY cares about this game. This might be an in-between year for Roy’s boys competing for a title, but they’ll show up for this one.
PirateWolf: I have no doubt that State will get UNC’s best effort. Roy Williams always has his teams pumped for State, regardless of what his players may say.
Thrillis4: Who is the key to this game for the Wolfpack to win and why?
Steven: It’s probably not true, but the key to this matchup to me always feels like it boils down to competitiveness on the glass. It can make life so much easier if you do not let them rebound 40% of their missed shots, which UNC did against State both times last year. (State just shot the hell out of it from three in Chapel Hill.) Don’t let ‘em crush you with second chance points, win the turnover battle by a handful, and you’re in business.
TheRealEssad: Not so much a who, but the team’s collective jump shot needs to show up. Against Miami and a few others, the Pack have been able to absorb dry spells, but if they go cold UNC’s pace can break off 10 unanswered in a flash. State can not afford to go down by that much. Can they dig themselves out? Yes, they can and they have multiple times the last two seasons. But it’s not a recipe for success.
PirateWolf: DJ Funderburk. While not a starter, against a UNC team with more overall size, the ability of Funderburk to crash the boards and play solid defense will be essential. Win the glass, win the game.
Thrillis4: Can UNC handle the Wolfpack’s depth? Because I feel like this is an asset that gives NC State such an advantage that they can roll ten deep.
Steven: You could frame this matchup as: the Heels’ top six or so is more talented, but when you take in the whole 10-wide field on both sides, NC State sees an edge emerge. Roy’s still spreading the minutes around and could play 10 if he wants, but his bench is not as scary as it’s been on his best teams. I’ll take our second five over theirs. Our advantage there could easily be wider than the one UNC theoretically has one-through-five, and carry the game as a result.
TheRealEssad: With Blake Harris being cleared to play, State is back to being able to do full line changes. UNC is successful when they force teams out of their comfort zone and play up-tempo. But they haven’t played a team who makes its living at ludicrous speed. My only worry is the Pack run out of gas by getting too hyped. We haven’t seen it happen yet, but if they can use their depth to their advantage, play fast but within themselves, they will show a lot of growth.
PirateWolf: It’s weird. In the past, it was always “don’t get in a track meet with UNC or you’re going to lose,” but this year feels like a track meet would play to the Wolfpack’s favor. I think UNC has enough depth of their own to deal with State’s depth if they’re able to play from in front and control the game; however, if this game plays at the tempo it can and likely will, you may see a finish like the Miami game.
Thrillis4: Who wins Tuesday night and by how much?
Steven: UNC will win by 18 points and appear flawless the entire time jinx jinx jinx.
TheRealEssad: UNC wins this round 1, 90-84. But that’s okay, because State wins the sequel in Chapel Hill next month after building more momentum in league play.
PirateWolf: State wins 93-89.
Thrillis4: I’ll answer my own question and take the Pack to win 90-85.