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There are numerous teams this year that have the potential to make it to the Final Four in what should be an exciting as usual NCAA Tournament. We will go over some of the favorites to cut down the nets at the end, now with North Carolina.
Team: North Carolina Tar Heels
Coach: Roy Williams
First Opponent: Iona
KenPom Offensive Efficiency Rating: 7th
KenPom Defensive Efficiency Rating: 10th
Why North Carolina Can Win It All: This year’s Tar Heels have been must-see TV every game they play. North Carolina plays at one of the fastest tempos in the country and they have prioritized quick possessions where the ball is to me moved as much as possible. It comes at no surprise that the Tar Heels have been great at putting up points in bunches and rank third in the nation in points per game (86.1). Roy Williams squad is lead by freshman Coby White, a six-foot-five combo guard who is in charge of running the famous and prolific “Carolina Break.” White is not the prototypical ball-handler that Coach Williams has had in the past, but White has unlocked a different level of the Carolina offense with his elite speed and perimeter shooting. Opposing defenses need to be organized at half-court or else White will punish teams with aggressive drives to the rim or early ball-screen actions that do a terrific job of creating wide open looks for the Tar Heels. Most tournament teams have not faced an opponent all season that pressures them with the speed and precision that North Carolina possesses. The Tar Heels also have front-court stars who can take over games as easily as their freshman point guard. Seniors Luke Maye and Cameron Johnson can each cause matchup nightmares for opposing defenses. Maye is an extremely strong forward who can get to the rim and create contact along the way. Maye is also a good mid-range shooter and good enough from deep to keep his defender honest. Johnson is a lanky marksman and one of the best three-point shooters in the country. Johnson must be accounted for at all times on the court and North Carolina will run plays specifically designed for him to get a quality three-point shot attempt. Johnson can do more than shoot from deep however, as he is quick enough to pull-up from anywhere inside the perimeter is can utilize his size to get quality looks at the rim. Defensively, the Tar Heels play an aggressive style of man-to-man defense but are disciplined enough to not foul frequently. Their quick tempo on offense can lead to good scoring opportunities at the other end for opponents but that is simply a consequence of their playing style and what fans of the Tar Heels will have to live with. Rebounding is the best defensive skill of North Carolina. The Tar Heels are one of the best defensive rebounding teams and are terrific at preventing second chance scoring opportunities for their opponents. The athleticism of the Tar Heels and their ability to crash the boards, along with their frenetic pace on offense, all contributes to opponents usually not having enough in the tank to keep up with North Carolina for a full 40 minutes.
Why North Carolina Won’t Win It All: A poor shooting night is the likeliest of reasons that would prevent North Carolina from winning the NCAA Tournament. Sub-par three-point shooting was a common denominator in the six losses the Tar Heels had this year. The Tar Heels did lose a low scoring game to Virginia in February, but no team plays defense quite like Virginia, and the odds of slowing the tempo down against UNC will be extremely low, given that no team in college basketball is a defensive clone of Virginia, who is also a number one seed in the tournament. Opponents who can manage Carolina’s tempo and turn it to an advantage also pose as a potential roadblock for the Tar Heels. Teams with competent and poised guard play could spell trouble for North Carolina in the later rounds of the tournament if they can handle the tempo that Roy Williams will unleash against them. Lastly, four out of the six Tar Heel losses required over 80 points to be scored by the winning opponent. If any team is going to beat the Tar Heels, then they better be able to put up some points, and quickly.
By Evan Kurland