Record: 28-6 (14-4)
NCAA Tournament Seed: 1 (East)
How they got to the Big Dance
The Tar Heels began the season without their star senior guard, Marcus Paige, due to a hand injury. They managed a 5-1 record in his absence, with their sole loss coming to unranked Northern Iowa. Paige came back and led the Tar Heels to an impressive home win over then- No. 2 Maryland. They caught fire in the middle of the season, going on a 12-game winning streak. Including the ACC tournament, the Tar Heels managed a 5-3 record over top-25 teams. They ran the table to win the ACC tournament with an 88-71 win over Pittsburgh, a 78-47 blowout over Notre Dame and a close 61-57 nail-biter over No. 4 Virginia.
Why they’re a legitimate contender
The Tar Heels may be playing some of the best basketball in the country right now. They’ve now won five straight, including wins over No. 17 Duke and No. 4 Virginia. They also get to call themselves the “ACC champions.” If you look solely at their schedule, they don’t have any bad losses except for Northern Iowa. But remember, the Tar Heels did not have Marcus Paige for that game. The only other loss to an unranked team all year was a conference road game against Notre Dame. The Tar Heels score over 80 points per game and shoot an impressive 47.9 percent from the field. They also know how to pass the ball effectively and average 18 assists per game. In addition, they rank 4th in the country with 12.7 offensive rebounds per game, which leads to many second-chance opportunities. They’re going to be hard to beat come tournament time.
Why they aren’t a legitimate contender
Although the Tar Heels score an average of 82.3 points, they do give up around 70 per game. Number-wise, that shows double-digit wins for the Tar Heels. But if they get cold, they can give up some points. Opponents shoot the three pretty well against them. If they meet a hot team from behind the arc at the wrong time, this could be potentially fatal. They themselves don’t shoot particularily well from 3-point distance (barely over 30 percent). If teams can control the tempo of the game and slow down North Carolina, they could keep it close. The Tar Heels also give up around 10 offensive rebounds per game. Teams will have to cash in on the second-chance opportunities to beat this North Carolina team.
Player to watch- F Brice Johnson
We all know what Marcus Paige will do for the Tar Heels. But if we’re talking about their chances of coming away as national champions, 6’9 senior forward Brice Johnson will need to continue to be a dominant force. He averaged 16.6 points and 10.6 rebounds per game this season. He is a monster in the paint and could be impossible to stop at times. If teams don’t have a big man who can match up with Johnson, they don’t stand much of a chance. He shot 72 percent in the ACC tournament and also recordedhis fair share of rebounds and blocks. Teams will most likely put a large focus on guards Marcus Paige and Joel Berry II, so Johnson will have his chances to shine.
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