Alabama Basketball Opponent Preview: North Carolina Tar Heels

Gary Cosby Jr.-USA TODAY Sports
Gary Cosby Jr.-USA TODAY Sports /

Alabama basketball will take on the top-ranked North Carolina Tar Heels in the Phil Knight Invitational third-place game on Sunday afternoon.

North Carolina enters the game with a 5-1 record after being upset by Iowa State in the PKI semifinals. The Tar Heels are one of the most complete teams in the nation, returning nearly their whole roster from a team that made a national championship game appearance in April. They will also have extra motivation to beat Alabama after their surprising loss to the Cyclones.

UNC big man Armando Bacot may be the most dominant interior presence in all of college basketball. Bacot is averaging 16.2 points and 11.5 rebounds per game this year. Last season, he averaged over 13 rebounds per game and tied an NCAA record for double-doubles in a single season. He will be tough to keep off the boards, but Alabama can throw a lot of bodies at him in the post.

In addition to Bacot, North Carolina may feature the best guard tandem in the NCAA. Caleb Love is leading the team with 17.7 points per game, adding 4.2 rebounds and 3.2 assists per contest. He is a streaky shooter who has been mostly off this season (23 percent from three), but has microwave-like scoring ability and can go for 30 on any given night. Love already has three 20+ point games this year.

Point guard RJ Davis is averaging 15.2 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 3.3 assists per game. He is a steady floor general who has been in double figures in every game this season. The backcourt duo of Love and Davis will be an excellent matchup for Alabama’s point guard trio of Jahvon Quinerly, Mark Sears, and Jaden Bradley.

North Carolina has a huge front line, rolling out forwards Leaky Black and Pete Nance in addition to Bacot. The 6’9” Black and the 6’11” Nance both have 7-foot wingspans, making the Tar Heels an imposing force defensively and on the glass.

Leaky Black is a Swiss Army knife and a lockdown wing defender. The super senior can guard every position on the court, and will undoubtedly be assigned to Brandon Miller in a must-see matchup. Black is averaging 8.5 points and 7.0 rebounds per game while shooting 54 percent from the field and 36 percent from the three-point line, all career-high numbers.

Northwestern transfer Pete Nance is another super senior and starts at the four for North Carolina. He is a versatile player that can score in the post and knock down spot-up threes. Nance is averaging 13.2 points and 4.7 rebounds per game, highlighted by a 28-point performance against Portland in the PKI opening round.

North Carolina does not get a lot of bench production in terms of scoring. Freshman guard Seth Trimble is an elite athlete and really good perimeter defender. Sophomore guard D’Marco Dunn is a good shooter in his spot minutes.

On the wing, junior Puff Johnson has returned from injury and adds more length and energy to the Carolina frontcourt. Sophomore Dontrez Styles is physical and very athletic, and freshman Tyler Nickel has natural scoring ability.

Alabama basketball will be tested at every position in this game. The guard matchup and the one-on-one between Brandon Miller and Leaky Black are particularly intriguing. Alabama will have to work hard to keep Armando Bacot and company off the glass.

Both teams will likely make some minor adjustments coming off their first losses of the season, either in rotation or scheme. Keep an eye on the chess match between Nate Oats and Hubert Davis, two of the young coaching stars in college basketball.

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Alabama basketball built its resume off beating top-10 teams last season. It will have several opportunities to continue that trend over the next several weeks, and this game against North Carolina is the first.