Harvard-North Carolina Preview
It's getting to be about the time when North Carolina is running out of chances to tune up for the Atlantic Coast Conference part of the schedule.
The No. 15 Tar Heels take their final non-conference assignment by facing visiting Harvard on Wednesday night at the Smith Center in Chapel Hill.
"We're not as good as I want us to be is the biggest thing," North Carolina coach Roy Williams said of assessing his team. "We've talked about we've got to get better as a basketball team. Just trying to get better every day."
The Tar Heels (9-3) had only four games in December, going in 3-1 in those games.
"I think it has been a good stretch for us," Williams said. "I think it's getting us prepared for conference play."
North Carolina sophomore forward Sterling Manley will miss the game due to left knee soreness, the school announced Wednesday. Manley, who is averaging 4.4 points and 4.3 rebounds in 11.7 minutes per game, is undergoing further evaluation, according to a team spokesman.
Harvard (6-5), which was picked in the preseason as the Ivy League favorite, will be taking on a nationally ranked team for the first time this season. The Crimson has won four of its last six games.
Williams' message about the need to improve apparently has been delivered. The Tar Heels had numerous crisp stretches in Saturday's 82-60 victory against visiting Davidson.
"Coming off of a break and a loss (to Kentucky in the previous game), we all had one common goal and that was to get better," point guard Coby White said.
Senior guard Cameron Johnson has led the Tar Heels in scoring the past four games, averaging 20 points per game in those outings. No North Carolina player had such a streak last season.
For the season, Johnson is hitting on 49.2 percent of his 3-point attempts, including a combined 10-for-16 in the last three games.
Since a 78-67 victory at Wofford in the opener, the Tar Heels have scored at least 82 points in each of their victories.
But it's improving on defense that is drawing the most scrutiny for North Carolina.
"I think that's the biggest problem we have is communicating and trying to make sure everybody gets picked up," Williams said.
Harvard coach Tommy Amaker is familiar with the Smith Center as he's a former Duke player and assistant coach. Amaker is in his 12th season at Harvard.
He's also familiar with his veteran-laden team that returned most of its scoring production from last season.
"We recognize without leadership none of this is possible," Amaker said.
Harvard is coming off Saturday's 71-67 victory against Mercer in a neutral-site game in Atlanta.
Freshman Noah Kirkland led the Crimson with 19 points, marking the second game in a row he had the team's top point total.
North Carolina has won at least 10 non-ACC games in 14 of the 15 previous seasons under Williams.
North Carolina leads the series with Harvard by 3-2, including the most-recent matchup in the first round of the 2015 NCAA Tournament (with the Tar Heels holding a No. 15 national ranking on that day as well). This will be the first matchup in Chapel Hill.
Since the opening of the Smith Center, Ivy League visitors are a combined 0-7 against the Tar Heels.
Updated January 2, 2019