NCAA 2nd Round: #4 North Carolina vs #5 Arkansas, 8:40 PM(approx), TNT
The Tar Heels look to advance past the NCAA Tournament's opening weekend for the first time since 2012 but will need to get past Arkansas' pressure defense to do it.
On one hand UNC is getting exactly the match-up it wanted. Arkansas plays at virtually the same tempo as the Tar Heels, around 70 possessions per game. The average offensive possession for both teams lasts about 15 seconds so this is expected to an up and down affair.
Arkansas historically has been a high pressure, up-tempo team and head coach Mike Anderson as a former Nolan Richardson assistant, continues that style of play. The Razorbacks force a turnover on 22.4% of opponent's possessions which is 20th nationally. The magic number for Arkansas on opponent's TO% is 22.8. On the flip side, as much as UNC's turnovers have been an issue, the Tar Heels' TO% isn't necessarily a red flag on losses. UNC is 7-4 when the overall TO% is at or above Arkansas' defensive TO%. The Tar Heels have four losses with when the TO% is below UNC's current average.
The issue with the turnovers is they seem to come in bunches, completely paralyze the offense for an extended stretch during which the defense also has issues getting a stop. These factors take together have led to UNC's inability to maintain leads or close games.
Offensively Arkansas is led by SEC Player of the Year Bobby Portis. Portis, a 6-10 sophomore, averages 17.5 ppg and 8.8 rpg. Portis is also an excellent free throw shooter for a big man hitting 73.5% of his free throws. Portis is also Arkansas' best three pointer at 46.4% but that is on 28 attempts. As a team Arkansas is over 72% from the line and has six players averaging 14 minutes or more per game that also shoot at least 71% or better from the free throw line. Guard Michael Qualls is in that group and also is the Razorbacks second leading scorer at 15.6 per game and hitting 34% from three. Rashad Madden leads the team in assists at 4.5 per contest and 37.6% from three.
The key for UNC is to take care of the basketball, break the Arkansas pressure and create opportunities to score. Arkansas is not a great shooting team, hitting just 44.4% of all field goals as a team. Taking away the Razorbacks' ability to score off turnovers would force Arkansas to make shots in half court sets. On the offensive end, the Tar Heels simply need to continue shooting well. UNC is over 50% from the floor in the past three games and 48% or better in six of the last seven games.
This will be a tough game for the Tar Heels but it is winnable if UNC plays at a high level. If not, it could be a third straight Round of 32 exit.
UNC 85 Arkansas 79