For Carolina it’s time to put away the ups and downs of the regular season. For the Tar Heels it is the moment to forget the early exit from the post season conference tournament. It is now time to focus on what is the true “survive and advance” experience, the NCAA Tournament. Today, with tip off about 7:20 p.m. EST at the AT&T Center in San Antonio, Tx #6 North Carolina (23 & 9) will take on #11 Providence (23 & 11). The game will be televised by TNT.
On one side you have UNC coming into this game on a two game slide after winning a dozen games in a row, while on the other side you have a Providence program that comes into the Big Dance after having won the Big East Tourney that was topped off by a victory over Creighton. While the two teams come in with two different paths that means nothing when you are in a “one and done” situation… or at least you hope not.
The one major difference between the two teams is the depth. The Tar Heels play seven players 20+ minutes a game, with three more getting anywhere from five to close to ten minutes. On the other hand the Friars are down to a six man rotation due to injuries. I would think that head coach Roy Williams and the coaching staff is going to try and use this to their advantage.
In order for the disparity in man power to work one of the two UNC leaders, junior forward James McAdoo, has to stay away from foul trouble and be on the court as much as possible. It has always felt that the energy is higher for the Heels when the 6’9″ forward is on the court. On the other hand, the other leader, sophomore combo guard Marcus Paige, needs to play more than just a half, putting pressure on the opposition to keep up in scoring. The more possessions, the more tired Providence will get with just one sub available.
Paige will also need to play good defense, as Providence’s main threat is PG Bryce Cotton averages 21.4 pts and 5.8 assists and has scored at least 22 pts in eight of the last 10 match ups. The same will be for freshman point guard Nate Britt when he is in the game, as he too will have to defend the Friars’ top offensive threat.
The other bigs for Carolina, be it freshman center Kennedy Meeks, sophomore forward Brice Johnson or sophomore center Joel James, will need to be extremely effective on the boards on both side of the ball, as keeping Providence from getting easy baskets and being able to score on put backs, will be key in order for the Heels to win this game. The Friars have two starters standing at 6’9″, but after that they have no one else with any major playing time above 6’7″. UNC needs to use this to their advantage.
Good rebounding and outlet passes can also lead to easy baskets, which always seem to make the Heels focus more on defense. Meeks is a good passer, if he can find Paige and get the ball moving it is going to get the fast break going. The perimeter players will also need to be tight on D and try to avoid entry passes and get some steals to once again get easy baskets going the other way.
“We’ve gotten away from some things, and rebounding and running have been the point of emphasis, by far,” junior point guard Luke Davis said. “We’ve talked about those two things more than we have all year.”
While most people have given up on him, or do not trust him, or better said… do not trust his shot, I just feel that for fifth year shooting guard Leslie McDonald is not going to finish his career on a low. With a less than stellar career at Chapel Hill a way to change that would be having good games to finish up his stay donning the carolina blue. The other I see having a good game is sophomore J.P. Tokoto, who has improved a lot from the beginning of the year until now. A good showing this tourney might just be the way to end his second season under coach Williams.
“Technically we’ve got to rebound,” coach Roy Williams said. “We’ve got to run. We’ve got to defend. We’ve got to do all those things. But I think it’s just the passion. You have to have more passion now, and I think they understand that.”
The wins over Top 10 programs or the losses to programs they should have beaten do not mean anything anymore. The bad start in the ACC or the 12 game winning streak are things of the past. None of that matters anymore now that March Madness is here. But what also does not matter is the seed, and I believe that too the Heels understand.
“We were just on the bus and saw Cincinnati lose to Harvard, and they were a No. 5 seed and Harvard was a 12,” Tokoto said. “It’s basically, anything could happen, you see it happening in front of you.”
In the end North Carolina is a four point favorite and I think that this spread is about right. The Heels will be in a tight game, but thanks to their leaders they will be able to pull this one out and then await to play on Sunday. Final score 74 to 68 for Carolina. Since this is the technology era I used a web site simulator to see what the computer say of the game and it came out with UNC winning. The game was played close to 900 times and this is the average…