NCAA Tournament First Round: #6 North Carolina vs #11 Providence, 7:20 PM, TNT(Marv Albert, Steve Kerr)
If everything the UNC players and coaches have said in the past few days is to be taken as gospel, the Tar Heels are:
1. Very aware of the stakes and understand the season ends unless they play with effort.
2. They are, as Marcus Paige put it, "dialed in."
Whether that plays out on the game remains to be seen but multiple players and head coach Roy Williams have declared the past few practices to be the best of the season so far. The key for UNC will be translating that onto the court in an NCAA Tournament game which, as we have seen after just one day of games, can be difficult at times. One bad game gets you sent home. That brings all sorts of pressure and UNC is still a young team so it will be interesting to see how well they understand the stakes given the general lack of experience.
The recurring theme in the lead-up to this game has been UNC taking a renewed interest in rebounding the basketball. UNC's rebounding was a critical factor in winning twelve straight games. It was an important factor in wins over Louisville and Michigan State. When UNC rebounds and is attentive to detail on defense, the Tar Heels are playing their best basketball. Some of that is tied to the effort and intensity issues for which there should be none given the season is on the line. Because of UNC's sometimes offensive ineptitude, the offensive rebounding rate is crucial to generating offense or keeping possession of the ball. Against Providence, a team that also rebounds well, collecting missed shots on both ends is an imperative.
Outside of the rebounding, the focus will be on Paige and his head-to-head match-up with Providence guard Bryce Cotton. Both players are remarkably similar. The shooting and efficiency numbers are very close and both guards play most of the game. The question facing Paige is how much production UNC gets from him over the course of the whole game versus just the second half. For Paige it is not really an issue of taking shots in the first half but making them. That is what makes the first half vs second half shooting numbers for UNC's guard so confounding. While Paige does take more shots in the second half, especially after the ten minute mark the difference between halves is that he makes more in the second over the first. Again, as long as UNC wins, it really doesn't matter but given UNC's offensive struggles it might become necessary for Paige to be the offense for a whole game. On the flip side, should Providence lock Paige down, UNC will need someone to step up and carry the load.
For James Michael McAdoo, now would be a great time to return to his midseason form.
UNC 72 Providence 65