If there was one word that could truly go with UNC’s season is… emotions. From the great wins against top teams, to the head scratching losses. From the 0-3 & 1-4 start in the conference, to having a twelve game winning streak afterwards. But now all of that is put aside, as the regular season has ended and #4 seed North Carolina (23~8 & 13~5 ACC) goes up against #5 seed Pittsburgh (24~8 & 11~7 ACC) in the second, of four, game of today’s slate at the Greensboro Coliseum.
While this is not a trap game, there are none when it comes to this part of the year, this is certainly a very tough match up that the Tar Heels will face versus the Panthers. Carolina has not been on the court since the loss to arch-rival Duke almost a week ago, while Pitt has warmed itself up quite nicely in a 84 to 55 rout of Wake Forest. Meaning that the Heels will face an opponent who has a game under its belt, but is definitely not tired from it. And that is a formula for a loss if the Heels are not ready to play from get go.
On the other hand, after suffering an end of the season loss, head coach Roy Williams‘ squad should have a “sense of urgency” once again when it comes to playing. This will have to come first and foremost from its two leaders, sophomore combo guard Marcus Paige and junior power forward James McAdoo, who both have to step up their game from here on out. For Paige it means becoming Mr. Whole Game and not just Second Half and for McAdoo it would have to be staying out of foul trouble. It feels that when the big man is in the game the Heels follow his intensity, so he needs to be on the court in order for the whole team to step it up.
Pittsburgh will probably slow down the game, which means that Carolina’s defense will need to play as well as possible. Cue to sophomore forward J.P. Tokoto, the stat stuffer, who needs to be effective on the defensive side in this one. Also needed to play well on both side of the ball will be fifth year senior Leslie McDonald as well as sophomore power forward Brice Johnson, who has become the team’s sixth man. With what should be a very pro-UNC crowd, a steal by one of the Heels that leads to a breakaway and slam dunk will have the Coliseum rocking. The more than happens, the more the crowd is into it, the better it will be for the Heels.
In what should be a close game North Carolina needs to focus on hitting the baskets given to them, while making Pittsburgh work as hard as possible for any and all of their shots. There is plenty at stake for both of these teams, the Panthers would like to add a signature win to their resume to leave no doubts if they are worthy of the tournament, the Tar Heels want to show that the big time victories and the 12 game winning streak were not luck. So for both of these squads it’s a must win game in some ways. Then again, given that it is March, in this month all games are a must win!
The Vegas insiders have Carolina as a one point favorite, I will say that is going to be about right, with the Heels taking this one in a very close game that ends 71 to 67. With the win the Heels would then face whomever moves on between top seed Virginia and Florida State tomorrow.