UNC vs. Portland Preview

No. 1 North Carolina (4-0) vs. Portland (4-2)
Phil Knight Invitational tournament
Portland, Ore. — Moda Center
Thursday, Nov. 24 – 1 pm ET
ESPN (Kevin Brown, Robbie Hummel)


“As a team we actually sat down and everyone in the room gave their two cents and provided what we value, and what we really want our identity to be on defense and offense … deep down we knew we could really be the ones that could change something and get back to what we were. Writing it down and actually seeing it visually was a tremendous help, and it put us in the right position.” — guard RJ Davis, on Hubert Davis’ assignment to the team to list his goals.

“One of the things I always tell the team is this is not an Armando Bacot rebounding game, this is a UNC rebounding game. I’m glad we have him. His pursuit of rebounds is relentless. It’s impossible to box him out. Armando needs help, but he was beautiful (on Sunday). His ability to rebound the basketball, defend, his ability to score consistently down low in the paint got us into the penalty, and we’re really a good free throw shooting team.” — Hubert Davis, on Armando Bacot’s 19 points and career-high 23 rebounds against James Madison.

Pregame Notes

Identity Homework: During the days that preceded North Carolina’s 80-64 win over JMU on Sunday, Hubert Davis issued a team-building challenge to his players, tasking them with writing down what they want their collective identity to be this season. Davis said he received a thorough, typed list signed by all 18 players on Saturday, the due date, without needing to give any reminders. Then in the game, the Tar Heels went on to deliver their most complete half in Davis’ view, building a 21-point lead in the first half and leading 45-26 by halftime. Seven different players scored, topped by RJ Davis (12 first-half points) and Bacot (11 points, 11 rebounds). UNC shot 51.7 percent from the field during the first half, and hit seven 3-pointers.

Welcome Back, Puff Johnson: Puff Johnson made his return to action in UNC’s defeat of JMU, and he was greeted by a warm ovation from the home crowd at the Smith Center. Johnson was the first sub off the bench for the Tar Heels. He scored six points after missing the first three games of the season while dealing with a right-knee injury. Hubert Davis highlighted Johnson’s energy level and the corner 3-pointer he connected on in the final five minutes, calling the shot a game clincher. Davis said Johnson has technical issues to sharpen up on, but if his first game back is an indicator, Johnson can be a major contributor for this team off the bench.

On the Road Again: After wrapping up its homestand to start the season, UNC now encounters five straight games away from Chapel Hill, NC — the three tournament games over Thanksgiving weekend in Portland at the Phil Knight Invitational, followed by road dates at Indiana (ACC-Big Ten Challenge matchup on Nov. 30) and Virginia Tech (ACC opener on Dec. 4). The Tar Heels don’t return to the Smith Center for a home game until Dec. 10, an ACC game against Georgia Tech. The field at the PKI also includes Iowa State, Villanova, No. 20 Connecticut, Oregon, No. 18 Alabama and no. 12 Michigan State.

UNC forward Leaky Black and Portland guard Tyler Robertson. (Photo: Inside Carolina / Portland Athletics)

Portland Spotlight: Portland played six games in 12 days to open the season, defeating Division III program Lewis & Clark 89-62, Florida A&M 91-54, Portland State 98-91, and winning at Air Force 64-51. The Pilots lost to Kent State 77-65 and Seattle 80-68, scoring 26 second-half points at home in the loss to Seattle.

Portland is a member of the West Coast Conference along with the likes of Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s. The Pilots will be UNC’s fifth straight mid-major opponent to start the season. Portland coach Shantay Legans is in his second season. The former Cal & Fresno State player spent 12 years at Eastern Washington, the final four of those as head coach, and led the Eagles to the Big Sky title and a berth in the 2021 NCAA Tournament.

Steering the Pilots: Portland has four players scoring in double figures, topped by Eastern Washington transfer Tyler Robertson (17.5 points per game) and Moses Wood (13.8 points per game). Robertson was named to the All-WCC Preseason Team. Starting guard Mike Meadows (11.3 points per game) has missed the last two games due to injury and is listed as questionable for this week’s games. The Pilots went 19-15 last season and were picked fifth in the WCC preseason poll, behind Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s, San Francisco and BYU.

Last Meeting: The two teams met to open the Phil Knight PK80 tournament in November 2017, and North Carolina rolled past Portland 102-78. It’s the only previous matchup between these programs. Luke Maye delivered 20 points and 10 rebounds, Joel Berry and Kenny Williams scored 18 points and 17 points, respectively, and Theo Pinson supplied 11 points, nine rebounds and seven assists.

Series History: UNC leads the all-time series 1-0. The Tar Heels are 8-1 all-time in the state of Oregon, including 1-1 at the Moda Center and 7-0 at Veterans Memorial Coliseum, tournament sites this week.

UNC went 2-1 in the PK80 in 2017, defeating Portland and Arkansas, before losing to Michigan State in the championship tournament. The Tar Heels are 3-1 all-time vs. Iowa State and 11-5 against Villanova, their possible second-round opponents.

Projected UNC Starters:
1 Leaky Black (Gr., 6-9, 205) — 8.5 ppg, 7.0 rpg
2 Caleb Love (Jr., 6-4, 200) — 17.8 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 3.3 apg
4 RJ Davis (Jr., 6-0, 175) — 15.8 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 3.0 apg
5 Armando Bacot (Sr., 6-11, 235) – 18.3 ppg, 11.8 rpg
32 Pete Nance (Gr., 6-11, 230) — 10.5 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 1.9 bpg

Projected Portland Starters:
1 Moses Wood (Jr., 6-8, 210) 13.8 ppg, 7.6 rpg
2 Tyler Robertson (Jr., 6-6, 225) 17.5 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 4.3 apg
11 Jack Perry (Gr., 6-3, 190) 2.3 ppg, 1.3 rpg
12 Kristian Sjolund (Jr., 6-8, 210) 12.2 ppg, 4.2 rpg
44 Joey St. Pierre (Sr., 6-10, 255) 3.2 ppg, 2.2 rpg

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