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Daniel Wilco | NCAA.com | January 31, 2019

UNC vs. Louisville prediction: 3 stats tell us who will win this ranked matchup

Kentucky cracks the top 5 in Andy Katz's latest Power 36

In early January, Louisville took down North Carolina 83-62 in Chapel Hill —Roy Williams’ worst home loss as coach of the Tar Heels. Neither team has lost since that game, as North Carolina has won four straight by an average of 15 points (including a 21-point win against No. 10 Virginia Tech), and Louisville is riding a six-game win streak.

The two teams face off at the KFC Yum Center Saturday at 2 p.m. ET. You can watch the game on ESPN.

Before tip-off, let’s take a look at three key factors for the game and predict a winner.

Steven Enoch is a huge matchup problem

Steven Enoch is a walking matchup problem for North Carolina. Enoch is 6-10, 260 pounds, and averaging 9.7 points and 5.3 rebounds per game this year for the Cardinals.

North Carolina’s biggest starter, Garrison Brooks, is 6-9, 230 pounds. With key forward Sterling Manley (6-11, 235) out with a sore knee, North Carolina doesn’t have a single other player over 6-7 who averages at least three minutes per game. In the first matchup against Louisville, it was the 6-7, 227-pound Luke Maye who drew the Enoch assignment for most of the game. Maye was outsized on defense and had a miserable night on offense, going 3-for-14 from the field and attempting a season-high six 3-pointers (of which he hit just one).

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As a result, it wasn’t surprising to see Enoch have his best game of the season against UNC, with a season-high 17 points and 11 rebounds. Brooks has seen his role increase a lot since the Louisville game, and North Carolina will obviously try some new matchups to keep Enoch from another career night, but a lot will be riding on No. 23 in red.

Can Louisville hold North Carolina off the boards again?

North Carolina is one of the best rebounding teams in the country (stop me if you’ve heard this before). The Tar Heels outrebound their opponents by an average of 40.5 to 30.4 this season. In 20 games this year, they’ve outrebounded their opponents 17 times. The three times they’ve lost the battle of the boards?

  • Beat UCLA 94-78, outrebounded by 2, 33-31
  • Lost to Kentucky 80-72, outrebounded by 6, 39-33
  • Lost to Louisville 83-62, outrebounded by 10, 36-26

It takes an impressive performance to outrebound UNC by 10, and that was led by Enoch with 11 boards, and Dwayne Sutton with 10. For the Tar Heels, Luke Maye had 11 rebounds and Nassir Little had four, but no other player had more than two. Brooks played 13 minutes and didn’t get a single rebound. 

It would be very unlikely to see that stark of a rebounding disparity again, but with the matchup problems mentioned earlier, don’t be surprised if Louisville takes the edge here in round two, which would go a long way in pulling off the upset again.

3-pointers can make or break the game

Spoiler alert: When your team takes 22 3-pointers and only hits 3, you’re probably going to lose that game. That’s what happened for UNC the first time these two teams squared off, with the 13.6 percent performance standing as the worst the Tar Heels have shot all season. But UNC has seen a stark turnaround since that game, shooting over 42 percent from deep in all four games since the Louisville loss, improving each game to where they were 13-for-27 (48.1 percent) in a 77-54 win at Georgia Tech Tuesday. 

The Tar Heels are actually the 35th-best team in the country in 3-point percentage this season at 37.9 — pretty out-of-character for UNC. North Carolina has only ranked in the top 100 of 3-point percentage twice in the past 10 years, and has only shot better than 37.9 percent once — in 2009, when they were 38.7 percent from deep and won the national championship.

But that aspect of the game isn’t always there for the Tar Heels. Outsized and inefficient in the paint, UNC forced 3-pointers against Louisville earlier in the year. Once they began to seriously fall behind, they needed 3-pointers to get back into the game, and the shot wasn’t there. If UNC can’t establish a post game against the Cardinals, the 3-pointer won’t be nearly as friendly.

Louisville has not been as proficient from beyond the arc this season, shooting 35.7 percent on the year — good for 113th in the country. But in the first matchup with UNC, the Cardinals were 11-for-26 (42.3 percent), their second-best performance of the year, behind a 9-for-18 (50 percent) outing against Kent State. 

PREDICTION

The Tar Heels got blown out at home by an historic margin the last time they faced Louisville, but it was an impressively bad performance by the home team, seeing season-lows in field goal percentage, 3-point percentage, and rebounds. It’s hard to see that happening again, and when UNC isn’t playing its worst game of the season, it’s a scary matchup for anyone. Score prediction: UNC wins, 85-79

How we're doing with these predictions

We're at 7-6 on the year, recovering after a mid-season slump.

Kansas vs. Kentucky (Jan. 26)

  • Our pick: Kentucky
  • Result: Win

Michigan State vs. Iowa (Jan. 24)

  • Our pick: Michigan State
  • Result: Win

Kentucky vs. Auburn (Jan. 19)

  • Our pick: Auburn
  • Result: Loss

Virginia vs. Duke (Jan. 19)

  • Our pick: Virginia
  • Result: Loss

Virginia Tech vs. Virginia (Jan. 15)

  • Our pick: Virginia Tech
  • Result: Loss

Ohio State vs. Michigan State (Jan. 5)

  • Our pick: Michigan State
  • Result: Win

Virginia vs. Florida State (Jan. 5)

  • Our pick: Virginia
  • Result: Win

Kentucky vs. North Carolina (Dec. 22)

  • Our pick: North Carolina
  • Result: Loss

Gonzaga vs. North Carolina (Dec. 15)

  • Our pick: North Carolina
  • Result: Win

Kansas vs. Villanova (Dec. 15)

  • Our pick: Kansas
  • Result: Win

Gonzaga vs. Tennessee (Dec. 9)

  • Our pick: Gonzaga
  • Result: Loss

North Carolina vs. Michigan (Nov. 28)

  • Our pick: North Carolina
  • Result: Loss

Duke vs. Auburn (Nov. 20)

  • Our pick: Duke
  • Result: Win

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