North Carolina Basketball: UNC begins its NCAA Tournament against Vermont

After a regular season where for the most part UNC did what they had to, with a couple of bumps, or pot holes, in the road such as the loss to the UNLV and the shallacking to FSU, it’s now time to put the spot light on the Big Dance. For top seed in the MidWest North Carolina (29-5 ~ 14-2 in the ACC) the NCAA tournament begins by taking on No. 16 Vermont (24-11 13-3 America East) at Greensboro Coliseum, Greensboro, NC., televised by TBS with Jim Nantz and Clark Kellogg calling the game. Carolina will face off against a team that could be said played a tale of two seasons, losing 9 out of the first 15 games and then winning 18 of its last 20. The two schools have met one another three times, with UNC having won all the previous match ups. This is also a game of two different types of tempo, with UNC wanting to run and VT being a lot more of a walking up the ball type of squad. For head coach Roy Williams the number one question will once again be if he should play power forward John Henson, who is a game time decision, or should he rest him, maybe not just this game but for the whole weekend. In the end it will come down to this if the junior plays or not…

“He has to feel comfortable that he can play and then I have to decide whether his play will be effective,” Williams said Thursday. “And I am being extremely honest, I do not know.”

If Henson, who missed the last two games of the ACC Tournament because of the wrist injury, does not play in this one senior Tyler Zeller will be paired up with freshman James McAdoo in the front court. The first year player has begun to come into his own during the ACC post season tourney and getting more playing time is only going to improve his game for the stretch run. Of course the absence of Henson on the court would make a difference for the Tar Heels, where it is going to be seen even more is when Zeller and/or McAdoo need a breather. The entrance of Desmond Hubert definitely lowers the bar in the paint for UNC, and there is no way to get around this unless the Heels want to go smaller, which can be ok for this weekend but not so much from the Sweet Sixteen on. On the other hand, if this game follows the pattern of most 1-16 match up, where the top seeds are 108-0, Hubert getting some minutes against Vermont, which boasts a front court of 6’6″ to 6’8″, might be a valueable learning curve for him. On defense the Tar Heels need to watch sophomore small forward Brian Voelkel, who can rebound (8.7 per game), dish the ball (5.2 per game) and is ok in scoring (close to 5 per game).

In the back court we have the tandem of Kendall Marshall and Reggie Bullock, with the first one being the floor general who is also becoming a shooter from the outside while the second one is a good shooter that needs to become above average. Marshall will need to get the break going for UNC if it’s there and if not to find the open player or to hit the shot if the opponents sag on the bigs and he becomes wide open. Bullock, along with the improving P.J. Hairston, need to hit their shot to keep the defense honest. While I have stated all season long that this Carolina team will go as far as Marshall and its bigs take it, the back court making their shots will make it so that the men in the paint can be even more productive. For Hairston this could be the biggest game in his college career so far, as he comes from Greensboro and I am sure that he wants to produce in front of his family and friends. On the defensive side of the ball the perimeter players need to watch for freshman Four McGlynn, who is the only player in Division I that leads his team in scoring (12.2 ppg) coming off the bench.

Then of course we have Harrison Barnes, who at times has shown what he can do (and will do at the next level), coming in second in scoring in the conference, but has not had those “go to” type of games that he showed the college basketball world last season around this time. With the Catamounts being much smaller than the Tar Heels it would make sense that they will double down often on Zeller, giving a chance for someone like Barnes to have a break out game, either by hitting open treys or taking the ball strong into the lane for “and one” type of play. For Barnes, as well as others, it is important to get out early and put this one away early to allow its starters as much rest as possible.

This game might be the last one where with the exception of Hairston and McAdoo the bench gets much playing time, but it is going to be very important that whatever minutes they do get they do not make them into a liability. Senior Justin Watts and freshman Stilman White have played well when on the court, they need to keep that going now and make sure that whomever they are replacing can get a good breather and stay fresh.

The Vegas insiders have No. 4 AP & ESPN/USA Today North Carolina as a 15.5 points favorite, and while I think that is a big spread, I am going to say that the Tar Heels will win the game by a bit more than that, with the final score being 79 to 58. ESPN’s AccuScore has the Tar Heels winning 78.9 to 65.3 while over at SCACCHoops their simulator has UNC as the winner by the final of 71.7 to 62.4. One interesting fact, while UNC is playing very close to home they are only 2-2 in their last four games in Greensboro, adding to that they will have Duke fans (also playing at the Coliseum) the home court advantage really does not qualify as much as the haters and ABC’ers would like to make everyone believe. Lastly, if things go the right way for Barnes the next game in this tournament would be against high school teammate Doug McDermott, where the two won 53 consecutive games while at Ames HS (Ames, Iowa).