In a game UNC Wilmington coach C.B. McGrath called a “special opportunity for the community,” the Seahawks host No. 9-ranked North Carolina on Friday.
Who: No. 9 North Carolina (1-0) at UNC Wilmington (1-0)
When: Friday, Nov. 8, 7 p.m. ET
Where: Trask Coliseum; Wilmington North Carolina
Watch: LIVE on FloHoops
The in-state showdown marks just the fifth meeting between the two programs in the past 70 years, and the first-ever at Trask Coliseum. Three of the four meetings all-time between the programs – all of which occurred in the 21st century – were played in Chapel Hill. The other was a neutral-site game in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, in 2003.
“Very few [Colonial Athletic Association] teams have a top 10 team come into their home and play a true road game,” McGrath said. “It’s something that’s great for our program and great for our university.”
North Carolina Tar Heels At A Glance
A true college basketball blue blood, a benchmark for the game over multiple decades, North Carolina helps carry the banner for the entire sport. This season marks the 17th for coach Roy Williams at his alma mater, and the 32nd of his illustrious career.
Williams spent close to two decades of that stretch with McGrath, first as McGrath’s coach at Kansas; then as colleagues at North Carolina from 2003-04 through 2016-17. Their last season together culminated in Carolina’s fourth national championship under Williams.
“I don’t know if it’s good news or bad news, but we know what they’re going to do – it’s just hard to stop,” McGrath said, both of his familiarity with North Carolina’s scheme, and the caliber of player that always comes through Chapel Hill.
Despite considerable turnover from a year ago, with Nassir Little, Coby White, Cameron Johnson, Luke Maye and Kenny Williams all gone, the Tar Heels have yet another Final Four-potential lineup in 2019-20.
Names To Know
Cole Anthony arrived in Chapel Hill from prep basketball powerhouse Oak Hill, considered one of the top prospects of the 2019 class. To say his debut lived up to the hype is the understatement of the year: Anthony dropped 34 points with 11 rebounds and five assists in a 76-65 defeat of Atlantic Coast Conference counterpart Notre Dame.
With as much change to the lineup as North Carolina experienced, some Tar Heels who were role players previously step into more prominent roles. That’s something recent Heels teams have done exceedingly well, and Garrison Brooks looks poised to be the latest. He flirted with a double-double in the opener, 10 points and nine rebounds, and could be a dominant force on the interior throughout this campaign.
Brooks has a talented partner inside with another standout freshman, 6-foot-10 Armando Bacot. The 5-star 2019 signee adds to the collective length and athleticism McGrath said will be most challenging for his Seahawks to counter.
Williams’ teams have always been renowned for their potent, free-flowing offensive style. North Carolina runs an active motion in the half-court, but the Tar Heels like avoiding half-court sets as much as possible. That means a lot of fast-break opportunities are on the table.
Last season, the Heels boasted the nation’s No. 8-ranked adjusted offensive efficiency per KenPom.com metrics. That ranking was six in 2017-18; nine in 2016-17; and tops in 2015-16.
In other words, North Carolina’s offensive proficiency doesn’t fluctuate with turnover in talent. It’s the result of a philosophical and stylistic approach.
College basketball coaches who long relied on man-to-man defense have flirted with zone more in recent years: coaches such as Villanova’s Jay Wright. Williams, however, has remained firmly committed to man-to-man, albeit with some wrinkles.
The Heels’ fast-breaking offensive approach is predicated on getting into passing lanes and closing out quickly on shooters to contest shots, thus turning looks into rebounds with quick outlets. Two years ago, when North Carolina struggled in the close-out facet of this approach, Williams implemented more sagging and less attack of passing lanes.
With a young and inexperienced roster, North Carolina’s approach on Friday will be an intriguing facet to setting the tone. Non-conference is the time to work on such things, but UNC Wilmington will game-plan for an aggressive defensive look.
UNCW Seahawks At A Glance
UNCW has been a CAA powerhouse at various times over the past two decades. This season marks the 20-year anniversary of Jerry Wainwright leading the program to its first-ever NCAA Tournament.
Two years later, the Seahawks stunned USC in the first round, and nearly did the same to then-reigning champion Maryland in 2003 under first-year coach Brad Brownell.
Brownell coached another NCAA Tournament team before heading to Clemson, and Kevin Keatts took the program back to the Dance in 2016 and 2017.
McGrath enters his third year aiming to build a similar contender. This year’s youthful roster could set the foundation for a promising future to come.
Names To Know
The 2019-20 campaign is marked with changes for UNC Wilmington. The Seahawks lost Devontae Cacok to the pros, and Jeantal Cylla to transfer to Arkansas.
Some new faces have an opportunity to shine, as was the case in a 103-83 season-opening win vs. Johnson & Wales. Jaylen Sims, a reserve last season, scored 19 points in the opener. Newcomer Jake Boggs dropped 13 in his debut, and junior Jay Estime’, who started much of last season, notched 13 with six rebounds.
At the nucleus of the new-look Seahawks, sophomore point guard Kai Toews again sets the table. He was a breakout star as a freshman, finishing second in the nation in assists behind only Ja Morant.
UNC Wilmington isn’t afraid to get up and down the floor. Last year, the Seahawks ranked in the top 100 nationally for adjusted tempo. They mixed in some solid 3-point shooting (35 percent) with a fast pace-of-play.
This year, the excellent ball-handling and table-setting of Toews leads the way.
“Our offense looked like it was flowing,” Toews said of his initial impressions in Game 1. “Everybody got to their spots and we capitalized off our matchups.”
One contributor to the offense the Seahawks will not have against North Carolina – or at all until sometime in December – is long-range marksman Ty Gadsden. A 46 percent 3-point shooter in 2018-19, he is out rehabbing an injury.
Coming out of the season opener, Toews said UNC Wilmington’s on-ball defense in its man-to-man set looked tough. But he said the Seahawks need to be better “boxing out and rotating on screens.”
North Carolina will throw plenty of motion screens, both on-and-off the ball, to test UNC Wilmington’s rotations.
The difficulty when the Seahawks do switch is in combating North Carolina’s size. With players like the 6-foot-9 Brooks and 6-foot-10 Bacot, defending with a guard-heavy rotation is a massive undertaking – figuratively and literally.
“That can be frustrating, because you should be able to stop certain things, but it’s just a different level of athlete, different level of intensity,” McGrath said.
He also added North Carolina’s pace is one “we don’t see too often.”