NCAA Tournament: #6 UNC vs #3 Iowa State, 5:15 PM, CBS(Marv Albert, Steve Kerr)
This is a fascinating match-up on a variety of levels. Iowa State has a highly efficient, up-tempo offense with a very short bench. They hit two point shots at a high rate(55%) and are good enough from beyond the arc(35%) with a couple of players at or over 40% from three. The Cyclones do all of this without the presence of traditional size. In fact the Friday night injury to 6-7 Georges Niang took out Iowa State's tallest player. The current roster of Cyclone contributors has the two tallest players at 6-6. It is an understatement to say the Tar Heels enjoy a significant advantage with their interior size.
Or do they?
While UNC certainly has bigger players, there is a legitimate question of which team these kind of mismatches truly favor. Kennedy Meeks, Brice Johnson and James Michael McAdoo might enjoy an edge on the interior on the offensive end. However the defensive end might be a nightmare with Cyclone players pulling UNC big men away from the basket, putting them in uncomfortable guarding situations and neutralizing to some extent their ability to collect rebounds. Given the differences in the respected lineups the question of this game centers on whether UNC can operate normally against some obvious mismatches at certain positions?
As you may recall, there have been times this seasons opposing teams have opted to go small and in doing to Meeks as well as other big men did not play as much. Meeks in particular has had games where he sat most of the second half because the opposing teams went small and Roy Williams opted to match those lineups. If the stable of UNC big men are unable to handle Iowa State's smaller players on the defensive end it will serve to shorten UNC's bench and effectively negate any perceived advantages the Tar Heels might have there.
All that being said, this is the kind of game where Brice Johnson could be a huge factor. Johnson will have a size advantage but at the same time not deal with an opposing big man who can overpower him. Johnson's biggest issue will be on defense, especially with rotations or if he gets pulled away from the basket. This is also a concern for McAdoo who continues to be a little foul prone. Both McAdoo and Johnson staying in the game is an imperative.
When UNC has been at its best this season it has been because they played as a team and got balanced contributions. That will need to be the case here with everyone essentially carrying over their play on the offensive end from Friday night where the Heels had five players in double figures and shot over 50% from the floor. If UNC can clean the defense up for the first time in what seems like a month, the Heels will have a good shot at playing in New York on Friday night.
UNC 82 Iowa State 78