NC State vs. UNC: 5 things to watch in heated rivalry matchup

Despite some winter weather in the Triangle, NC State and North Carolina are set for a huge showdown with both teams seeking to move above .500 in ACC play

Adam Hagy—USA Today Sports
North Carolina Tar Heels guard Joel Berry II meets with teammates prior to the game against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at McCamish Pavilion.

North Carolina and NC State are set to face off on Saturday night after inconsistentstarts to conference play. But as snow continues to fall in the area, there still hasn’t been a clear decision as to whether or not the game will be played.The Tar Heels bounced back from a stunning loss to Georgia Tech with a come-from-behind overtime win against Clemson. But UNC returns home with a 1-1 record in the conference and eyeing a third straight victory over NC State.Meanwhile, the Wolfpack also sits at .500 in ACC play after a molly whopping of Virginia Tech on Wednesday night. NC State still has question marks on the road, currently taking an 0-2 mark in true road games into Chapel Hill.Saturday’s game is the earliest in the Carolina-State rivalry since the 2006 season when the two teams faced off on the same date. Here’s a look at five things to watch in a series that the Tar Heels have dominated with a 25-3 since 2004.WILL THEY PLAY?Roy Williams said he has “high confidence” that Saturday’s rivalry game with NC State will be played as scheduled prior to accumulation of snow in Raleigh and Chapel Hill on Saturday morning.UNC and ACC officials are keeping a close eye on the weather to determine how it might affect the game at the Smith Center. Because it’s still too early to know when, where and how much frozen precipitation might fall, a final decision on whether or not the game will be played probably won’t come until sometime Saturday morning or early afternoon.Williams said at a press conference Friday that he’s going on the assumption that the game will go on as scheduled.”I’m going to go out there (to practice) today and say we’re preparing to play at eight o’clock tomorrow night,” Williams said. “If something changes, we’ll let you know. If not, let’s play at eight o’clock.”If the Heels do decide to play, expect a different atmosphere with some fans likely not braving the winter storm. The last time NC State won in Chapel Hill came in a similar situation, with the Pack downing the No. 15 Heels, 58-46, in 2015.’BAD BOYS’ MENTALITY?In its first road ACC contest, NC State got smacked in the mouth by Miami. Prior to that game one week ago, the Wolfpack played just one other true road game in a loss against Illinois during the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.Currently winless on the road, the Pack hopes to buck that trend by taking on a new personality on the court.”We kind of want to get kind of an old Pistons back in the day ‘Bad Boys’ mentality,” Terry Henderson said. “We’re going to try to incorporate that into our team.”One area where the Pack could use that mentality is on the boards. NC State is tied for 20th in the country in scoring at 84.5 points per game, but has done so with just 39.2 rebounds per game — tied for 65th nationally and fifth in the ACC. But with more options on the front line recently with Omer Yurtseven and Ted Kapita added to the mix, bodying up in the paint should be slightly easier for the Pack. Creating second-chance opportunities for guards like Smith and Henderson will be crucial if NC State plans to pull the upset.REBOUND WITH A PURPOSESpeaking of rebounding, UNC leads the nation in rebound margin at plus-14, is second nationally in rebounds per game at 45.6 and second in offensive rebounds at 16.3, so dominating the glass will be a reachable goal for the Tar Heels — even against a sizeable State front line. They key will be turning as many of those offensive rebounds as possible into points, something Kennedy Meeks and the rest of his UNC teammates had trouble doing in Tuesday’s overtime win at Clemson. The 6-foot-10 Meeks had 10 offensive rebounds by himself and the Tar Heels pulled down 23 as a team, but because of an inability to put the ball back into the basket they wasted half of them by scoring only 23 second-chance points. “I’ve always said if (rebounding) is not the most important thing, it’s in the top two or three,” Williams said. “Finishing plays around the basket, not just board play, is important. We’ve got to try to do a better job of finishing plays around the basket and try to do a good job of hoping they don’t finish those plays around the basket. I mean they shot 64 percent for the game” on Wednesday against Virginia Tech.DSJ’S ENCORETriple-doubles in the college game are a rarity. With less playing time — 40 minutes compared to 48 — and typically less talented shooters, putting together double-digit assists and rebounds can be tough for even the most talented point guards.Don’t tell that to Dennis Smith Jr.The freshman star posted his first triple-double against Virginia Tech with 27 points, 11 assists and 11 rebounds. He also added a career-high five steals just for good measure in a blistering 104-78 beatdown of the Hokies.Just seven freshmen have recorded a triple-double in ACC history, but Smith’s marks the first against an ACC opponent. Virginia Tech coach Buzz Williams said his preparation for Smith didn’t quite pan out.”I’ve seen him a lot, but never coached against him,” Hokies coach Buzz Williams said. “Don’t know if any of my coaching was effective against him tonight. He’s deserving of all the hype.”With myriad scoring options in the starting lineup and off the bench thanks to the return of Maverick Rowan, Smith’s assist total could continue to climb. Pair that with a small-ball lineup at times from the Wolfpack and his scoring touch, and a second triple-double seems possible at some point this season.BERRY GOOD It’s probably too much to expect junior point guard Joel Berry to score 31 points or go 7 of 10 from 3-point range again like he did on Tuesday against Clemson — especially since he’ll undoubtedly have to expend a lot more energy on the defensive end guarding Smith Jr.But the fact is that the Tar Heels are at the best when Berry is also at his best and they tend to struggle when he’s not in the lineup or not playing up to par, as was the case when he 3 for 13 from the floor with six turnovers in a New Year’s Eve loss at Georgia Tech. Whether it’s scoring, facilitating others, defending or a combination of all three, UNC needs a big game from Berry if it wants to hold off its neighboring rival. The chances of that happening are better now that he’s over the flu bug that slowed him for the two games prior to his big performance at Clemson — one that saw him play 41 of the game’s 45 minutes.”The other night I went with Joel Berry the entire second half and overtime and never took him out, because he’s the guy I wanted in there at that specific moment,” Williams said. “I just felt like we needed Joel Berry in the game, not anybody else. We needed Joel Berry. That’s the reason I stayed with him.”