By Patrick Vint on December 8, 2020 at 9:40 am
Roy, Royin' it up
© Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports


TIME 6:30 pm CT
WHERE Carver Hawkeye Arena
RADIO Learfield Affiliates
LINE Iowa -4.5
KENPOM Iowa -3
3-0 RECORD 3-1
0-0 CONF. 0-0
115.5 (3rd) OFF. EFF. 108.7 (26th)
93.7 (71st) DEF. EFF. 87.7 (14th)
13.6 POSS. 16.0
57.9 (19th) eFG% 45.2 (222nd)

The three tune-up games are in the books.  Now it's time to find out if the third-ranked Iowa Hawkeyes -- still fun to type -- have the goods.  Over the next two weeks, they'll get an ACC powerhouse, a major-conference rival, and (Covid willing) the number one team in the nation.

First up: North Carolina.  The Tar Heels are currently ranked 16th in the AP poll, after sliding two spots after a loss last week to Texas.  In Kenpom, UNC ranks 14th.  Before that loss to Texas, UNC had racked up comfortable victories over Charleston and UNLV, and a close win against Stanford.  Texas is legit this season, so there's no shame in that defeat.

The Kenpom chart for UNC is pretty straightforward: They really, really aren't shooting worth a damn.  The Tar Heels don't shoot well from inside the arc (46.7%).  They don't shoot it well from outside the arc (27.1%).  They don't even shoot it well from the free throw line (65.2%).  That all adds up to a sub-50 effective field goal rate and some fairly horrendous true shooting percentages from significant contributors.  There's really only one three-point shooter on the roster, freshman guard R.J. Davis (6'0", 160, 6/13 3 pt. shooting), and he's not shooting at a volume that creates much concern.  North Carolina as a whole is only attempting a three-point shot on 24 percent of its field goal attempts; only four power-conference teams have attempted fewer.  The Heels are also loose with the ball: They turn it over on 22 percent of possessions, and their steal rate (13.7 percent) is 276th nationally.

With lots of turnovers and poor shooting, how is UNC still ranked as high as they are?  It's rebounding and defense, basically.  UNC is getting an offensive rebound on an absurd 45 percent of possessions.  Only Florida, Illinois, Baylor and UConn have been better on the offensive glass so far this year.  On the other end, opponents are getting offensive rebounds against UNC at half that rate.  The Tar Heels outrebounded Texas 50-32, and played to damn near a draw on their own end (20 offensive rebounds for UNC, 24 defensive rebounds for Texas).  And Texas isn't small.

On the defensive end, it's about what you'd expect from a team that dominates the glass.  Opponents are shooting just 43.5% on two-point attempts, and 18 percent of shot attempts are getting sent back.  So, yeah, they have some size.  The two big spots are essentially a three-man rotation between the rare UNC senior Garrison Brooks (6'10", 240, 12.3/8.5/1.0 blocks) and two underclassmen, sophomore Armando Bacot (6'10", 240, 10.8/7.8/1.0 blocks) and five-star freshman Day'Ron Sharpe (6'11", 265, 6.5/7.0/1.8 blocks).  As if that wasn't enough, seven-foot five-star freshman Walker Kessler (7'1", 245, 4.3/3.0) is available for about 10 minutes a game of spot duty.  They are enormous on the front line, and it's a kind of enormous that Iowa hasn't seen yet this season.

The small forward spot has been monopolized by the excellently-monikered Leaky Black (6'8", 195, 6.8/7.3), who isn't much of a scorer but contributes across the board.  The backcourt has mostly been the aforementioned Davis at the off-guard and (say it with me) five-star freshman Caleb Love (6'4", 195, 11.0/2.0/2.5 assists) at the point.  Love has not been shy about shooting from the perimeter, making just 3 of 19 attempts so far.  He's also an effective perimeter shot blocker, with size and range to burn.  Senior Andrew Platek (6'4", 205, 5.0/2.0) has picked up some minutes in the backcourt when needed.

This isn't the usual Roy Williams run-and-gun squad; Iowa is markedly faster per possession, and North Carolina isn't generating enough steals to really make that work regardless.  It's actually a decidedly old-school team, built on size and rim protection.  The Heels have more bodies to throw at Luka Garza (and, if he's playing like he did last week, Jack Nunge) than any other team on Iowa's schedule this year.  On top of that, Love's size is a real matchup concern for Iowa's smallish backcourt.  Connor McCaffery could well draw that assignment all night, and his ability to stay in front of Love might be the deciding factor.

But, for all that size, UNC doesn't have an obvious answer for Joe Wieskamp when he's playing the 4 in Iowa's undersized setup.  If they stay big against the three-guard setup, there should be open shots for Bohannon and Fredrick, so long as McCaffery can generate at least enough offense to keep a defender busy.  That lineup makes enough shots to largely nullify the obvious rebounding issues.  And if Iowa goes big, with Nunge at the 4 and Wieskamp at the 3, it's a natural man-on-man matchup with just about any lineup Carolina can throw out there. 

This is going to be a chess match, played largely with Fran McCaffery's lineup versatility against a short UNC bench full of tall guys.  If Iowa is going to come out on top, Fran is going to have to outcoach a Hall of Famer.  If Iowa is going to justify that lofty ranking, this is going to be the first of many games where McCaffery will have to be the better coach.

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