NCAA First Round: #4 North Carolina vs #13 Harvard, 7:20 PM, TNT
The question facing UNC heading into the NCAA Tournament is can they carry over the heightened level of play seen last weekend in Greensboro? After all, Dean Smith once noted that momentum must be built anew with every "four team" tournament. What went well last week in Greensboro might not happen now that UNC has moved to a different setting.
The caveat here is what happened last week may have been UNC finally(and belatedly) clicking as a team. The normal mode of operation for a Roy Williams team is to hit its stride in early February and head into March playing extremely well. It seems that stride hasn't been hit until the past few games and conincided with two key factors.
The first is Marcus Paige looks much better on the court. Having declared himself pain free after the Georgia Tech game on March 3rd, Paige's past five games have been outstanding. Starting with the regular season finale vs Duke, Paige is averaging 18.2 ppg, 5.8 apg, 42.5% from three(17-30) and 61%(13-21) on two point shots. Those are the numbers Paige was expected to post and he is doing so at the right time. Assuming that continues, UNC becomes a very difficult out in the tournament.
If Justin Jackson gets past the bump in the road versus Notre Dame, it really raises UNC's profile as a team which can make a nice run. Jackson looked scared in the first game against Duke but since since has hit 12-31 from three for 38% that number was hurt by his 0-7 from three in the ACC title game but in the past nine games his 12 made threes exceeds his previous total for made threes in the previous 26 games. Jackson is essentially the lynch pin. His ability to score all over the floor coupled with a more aggressive Paige gives UNC's offense more dimensions. The Tar Heels will get plenty of production from the post but Paige and Jackson plus Joel Berry can provide enough three point shooting to keep an opposing defense from keying in on just one area.
Harvard's tempo is going to make things more difficult. Paige already hinted that they would extended defensive pressure which probably means more run and jump. Another issue for Harvard is UNC has length all over the floor. This is a factor Harvard may not be able to fully prepare for beforehand. Not many teams put a 6-8 and 6-7 player on the wings go to along with two legit post players. If the tempo is going to be slower, UNC shutting Harvard down and getting out to a multiple possession lead could give the Tar Heels control of the game early.
UNC 68 Harvard 53