Louisville-North Carolina Preview
Kennedy Meeks entered a recent film session expecting to see some positive moments for him and fellow big man Brice Johnson for North Carolina.
Instead, the sophomore said, he came away a bit discouraged.
The No. 18 Tar Heels (11-4, 1-1 ACC) need a far more inspiring effort from their frontcourt Saturday when they host preseason Associated Press All-American Montrezl Harrell and fifth-ranked Louisville.
”We just need to focus on not taking plays off,” Meeks said Friday, ”because clearly in the film you can see us sometimes walking around, which is pretty embarrassing from a player standpoint – just seeing that we really didn’t give enough effort as we should have.”
That ”tough” film session is a small part in the education of UNC’s talented frontcourt duo. Meeks and Johnson have created more than a few good moments in their first year in leading roles, but with top-level ACC teams on the docket, coach Roy Williams is pushing them to become consistent performers.
”The first press conference, I said we need a couple of big guys to step up and be consistent, to get their play at a high level and do it consistently,” Williams said. ”That’s still what we’re looking for a little bit. I think they’ve really had some good moments, but they’ve really had some bad moments, too.”
Neither played up to those lofty expectations in a 71-70 home loss to No. 13 Notre Dame on Monday. Meeks played only 17 minutes due to foul trouble, and Johnson shot 3 of 11.
Still, their stats are up from last year. The 6-foot-9 Meeks, who has shed about 45 pounds since arriving on campus, is second on the Tar Heels in scoring (12.7) while leading them in rebounding (8.8) and shooting percentage (58.6, good for fifth in the league).
The 6-9 Johnson, with a longer and leaner frame, is third on the team in scoring (11.3) and second in rebounding (7.0) while shooting 53.3 percent. They’re the only players among UNC’s top rotation shooting better than 50.0 percent.
They’ll have a tough matchup with Harrell – a North Carolina native from Tarboro – inside for the Cardinals (14-1, 2-0). And Louisville coach Rick Pitino said Friday he plans to start 6-10 freshman center Chinanu Onuaku to bring some physical play up front.
”They’re a terrific rebounding team,” Pitino said. ”They’re very good athletes. They’re very good passers. They work the inside very well.”
Harrell scored 25 in a conference-opening 85-76 victory at Wake Forest on Sunday and is second on Louisville with 15.9 points while pulling down a team-best 9.3 rebounds. He’s fourth in the ACC with a 59.7 field-goal percentage.
However, Harrell is coming off a season-low six points in a 58-52 win over Clemson on Wednesday. His six double-doubles are tied with Meeks for the most in the ACC.
Chris Jones had 22 points in each of the first two conference games, and Terry Rozier – averaging a team-best 17.0 – has scored 20.5 over the last eight. Jones and Rozier have also played well on the defensive end.
"Our guys have to understand what the ACC’s all about," Pitino said. "You want to run, North Carolina will be more than happy to accommodate you. … Certain teams are not going to do that and you’re going to have to win with defense and that’s what we had to do (Wednesday) – win with defense."
UNC is 9-3 in the series, upsetting then-No. 3 Louisville 93-84 in the last matchup Nov. 24, 2013, in the Hall of Fame Tipoff Tournament at Uncasville, Connecticut.
Marcus Paige, who leads the Tar Heels with 13.5 points per game, scored 32 while Meeks and Johnson each added 13 off the bench. Jones had 20 points for Louisville and Harrell was limited to five and fouled out.