The North Carolina Tar Heels will take on the Oregon Ducks in the second game of the Final Four tonight at 8:49 PM ET. Each team comes into Phoenix coming off impressive wins, each in their own way, in the Regional Finals and this game has all the makings of a classic. Here are three things to watch when the Heels take on the Ducks:
Joel Berry’s ankle
This is the obvious point for Tar Heel fans, but important nonetheless. In a variety of articles, Tar Heel Blog has mentioned throughout the season: as Joel Berry II goes, so goes the Tar Heels. Looking back to last weekend, there was a big difference in production from Berry from the first game to the second.
Against Butler, Berry had several days between games and had time for rest and rehab. He was the leading scorer against the Bulldogs, scoring 26 points. He was 8-13 from the field, including 3-7 from three. Less than two days later against Kentucky, his production slipped. Berry scored 11 points, was 4-12 from the field, including 0-5 from three. Pain in his ankle is a factor during his jump shot, and the 0-5 three-point figure proves the ability to plant comfortably. Another ankle consideration was the change of normal defensive assignments, with Theo Pinson guarding De'Aaron Fox, which worked out well.
As the floor general, the most important contributions from Berry are not necessarily in the scoring department. Like in the Kentucky game and other games throughout the season, if Berry is not putting up big numbers (even though 11 points against Kentucky was third-highest on UNC), he has an ability to make the timely scoring plays. Ball-handling, pushing the pace, and setting the defense are those key contributions that Berry provides, and will continue to do so as long as he can stand.
Containing Dorsey and Bell
Oregon sophomore guard Tyler Dorsey and junior forward Jordan Bell have had a great NCAA Tournament, and each for different reasons. For the Heels to advance, they will have to limit the threats each player poses.
Dorsey is the second-highest postseason scoring player left in the Final Four (behind South Carolina’s Sindarius Thornwell), averaging 24.5 points per game during the NCAA Tournament. During the tournament, has has been on fire from beyond the arc. He is 17-26 from three, good for 65.4 percent. He leads the entire tournament with three-pointers made and has the highest percentage made out of any players left. The effort on the perimeter, especially against Dorsey, may decide the game. This has been a point of concern throughout the season, but hopefully the game against Kentucky can provide some insight on how UNC will respond to outside shooting. On the big stage in Phoenix, the Heels need to capitalize on early stops or misses by Dorsey. This can help Carolina not only put points on the board, but impose their style of play on Oregon.
Bell has been gobbling up rebounds for the Ducks. He has not grabbed less than 12 rebounds in any one tournament game, and leads all remaining players with 12.5 rebounds per game during the tournament. The good news for Tar Heel fans is that Kennedy Meeks is right behind him with 11.3 rebounds per game during the tournament. This will be a good battle on the boards. Bell is listed at 6’-9”, 225 pounds, while Meeks is at 6’-10”, 260 pounds. While Meeks should be the anchor on the inside, the keys to defense will be how Carolina responds to Bell and forward Dillon Brooks stretching the defense. Isaiah Hicks and Luke Maye will need be active and smart defensively between the paint and arc. Conversely, on the offensive end, the match up will be more favorable for the UNC front court. Bell will undoubtedly be assigned to Meeks, leaving opportunities for Hicks and Maye against undersized defenders. Expect a double-team on Meeks, just like in the Kentucky game. With that experience, the Tar Heels should be better able to recognize and then capitalize on scoring chances with an open shooter.
Focus on the moment and the task at hand
In his press conferences leading up to the game, Coach Roy Williams has mentioned in response to questions about redeeming last year’s heartbreak that if UNC does not beat Oregon, then it does not matter. A bad practice Thursday does not help ease those feelings.
However, this is not the first rodeo for Coach Williams and three of the UNC starters tonight. That in itself can be an intangible difference in the game, no matter how much it is downplayed by Coach Williams. As mentioned by Jake Lawrence, this is truly a team unit. A spectacular individual performance is not the expectation needed to reach Monday night. Do not do too much or force what is not there. Rely on the fundamentals when emotions run high and remember the game plan. Each player understanding and executing their responsibilities and assignments will contribute to a team performance that can beat an excellent opponent tonight.