Wake Forest-North Carolina Preview
North Carolina has shown it doesn't need to play its best to continue a unbeaten start in the ACC, but that's in part because it has yet to face the conference's best.
The second-ranked Tar Heels will go at least eight games into league play without seeing a ranked opponent, a stretch that continues Wednesday night against Wake Forest.
Saturday's 67-55 home win over North Carolina State extended UNC's best start in conference play since winning its first 11 in 2000-01. The Tar Heels (16-2, 5-0) hadn't started better than 3-0 since then, and they're in position to win 10 straight overall for the first time since a 12-game run Jan. 26-March 3, 2014.
On the one hand, Carolina shot 37.9 percent after a 51.7 mark over its previous five games. On the other, the Heels won by 12 in spite of that season-low percentage.
"This is not what we expected and a crazy game offensively, but to still win by 12 against a tough ACC team that rebounds as well as State does is a positive thing," said Marcus Paige, who was limited to three points on 1-of-9 shooting.
"Obviously we didn't play as well as we wanted to, but to have our three best scorers play the way we did and to still put them away and not make it a question at the end of the game is still pretty impressive."
Brice Johnson and Justin Jackson were limited to six points each, but Kennedy Meeks matched a conference career high with 23 on 10-of-16 shooting. It was Meeks' second game back after missing seven with a knee injury.
"It just gives me confidence. I can be one of the players on this team," Meeks said. "... That's something about our team, someone is always going to pick it up. Our depth is crazy and it showed today."
There's been no such letdown at the top recently against the Demon Deacons. North Carolina has won the last two meetings by an average of 24.5 points while shooting 58.8 percent, including an 87-71 victory in Winston-Salem on Jan. 21. Johnson has averaged 16.5 on 15-of-20 shooting in those meetings, while Meeks has scored 15.5 on 14 of 18.
Wake Forest (10-7, 1-4) is less than two weeks removed from its own home win over N.C. State, but any lingering positives were swept away by Saturday's 83-55 home loss to Syracuse. The Deacons shot a season-low 32.6 percent, went a season-worst 2 of 20 from 3-point range, committed 18 turnovers and were outrebounded 43-35.
"I don't know any other way to say it: we took a step back tonight," said coach Danny Manning, whose starting five combined for 28 points on 28.0 percent shooting. "All the way around, we took a step back."
Prior to that, a 93-91 loss at Virginia Tech last Wednesday pushed their conference road skid to 16. If they lose in Chapel Hill, the Deacons will have gone over two years since winning in an opposing ACC gym - at Virginia Tech on Jan. 22, 2014.
Any hope of that ending might require Codi Miller-McIntyre to get back to some level of consistency. The senior, who missed the first eight games with a broken foot after leading Wake with 14.5 points per game last season, was 1 for 7 for six points against Syracuse and has been held under that total in four of his eight other games.
He scored 20 points last year against North Carolina.
Current leading scorer Devin Thomas was limited to nine points against Syracuse, but he's averaging 16.0 and 11.4 rebounds in ACC play.