"Right now we stink… Guys, I got no positive things. If you want some positive things, you better go out and find somebody on the street, because I got no positives for me, no positives for my team."
That was Roy Williams after North Carolina lost 84-67 to Michigan at the end of November.
Of course North Carolina came out a week later and trounced UNC-Wilmington, 97-69, but that’s not exactly the highest level of competition.
North Carolina has had a week and a half since the UNC-Wilmington game to prepare for the Zags, and the Zags? Well, they’re headed into one of the biggest road games in program history.
Here is what they are going to need to do to win:
I mentioned North Carolina losing to Michigan. Well, they also have lost to Texas. Digging into those box scores there is one similarity: Michigan and Texas both had phenomenal shooting nights from three. Michigan hit eleven three’s and shot 50% from beyond the arc, Texas also hit 11 threes, going 46% from beyond the arc that day.
So how have the Bulldogs done from three-point land when they have played top level competition this season?
Duke: 10 3’s at a 53% clip
Creighton: 11 3’s at a 37.9% clip (And if Zach Norvell doesn’t take a few ill-advised threes in the last few minutes of that game, that percentage number would be way higher.)
Tennessee: 7 3’s and 38.9% (The Zags’ lone loss)
If Gonzaga can hit double digits on threes relatively efficiently, that gives the Bulldogs a great shot at winning.
BATTLE OF THE BENCHES (OR LACK THEREOF)
Next, this game presents Gonzaga a just pure numbers challenge.
North Carolina has ten, yes ten, players averaging 10 or more minutes a game. Okay, one of their players averages 9.9 minutes per contest, but I’m rounding up for our purposes today.
Gonzaga has seven players averaging that amount of time. Once Killian Tillie and Geno Crandall are back at the end of the month obviously this changes, but right now, they ain’t playing.
Gonzaga is going to have to be super smart, not only in terms of how they exert their energy, but also in terms of fouling. If even one of the starters gets in foul trouble, this game could spiral fast for the Zags.
Some good news for Gonzaga: Texas played eight players for ten or more minutes against UNC, and Michigan played seven players for ten or more minutes against them. So a win is possible.
Here's the key stat in all of this: No players on Michigan or Texas had more than three fouls against the Tarheels.
Gonzaga has not played in front of a crowd quite like UNC’s in quite some time. This isn’t a neutral site, this isn’t a tournament, this is at the Dean Smith Center.
I think you’d have to go back to the 2014-2015 season where Gonzaga played at #3 Arizona to find a comparable environment. By the way, the only player that was on that 2014-2015 roster that is on this year’s team is Josh Perkins, and I’m not entirely sure he was even at the game considering he broke his jaw 10 days before that.
This will be an extremely rowdy environment that no one on this team has really experienced.
Just for comparison, the McCarthey Athletic Center’s capacity is 6,000. The Dean L Smith Center? 21, 750. That’s 4,000 more people than at Creighton a few games ago.
So here’s what this game breaks down to: If Gonzaga can make threes and shoot them at an efficient rate, not get tired against the Tarheels deep bench and not foul the Tarheels, and block out the crowd? That’s a winning formula.
We’ll see if that’s what we get Saturday at 4.