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UNC in the NCAA Tournament: Three Things to Watch

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Look for these themes as the Tar Heels march to San Antonio

NCAA Basketball: ACC Conference Tournament Championship-Virginia vs North Carolina Nicole Sweet-USA TODAY Sports

The tournament time North Carolina Tar Heels are here. Their run to the ACC Tournament Final earned them a No. 2 seed, and revealed some insight into some of the ingredients for a Final Four run.

Carolina is not the same kind of offensive juggernaut it has been in the past two tournaments, but there is obviously talent in the lineup that has shown the ability to explode at times this season.

Balanced Scoring

Against Duke last Friday, five Tar Heels scored in double figures. Theo Pinson was the lone starter below 10 (he scored eight points). However, he led the team in assists. In this balanced scoring attack, there were 24 assists on 28 made field goals.

In contrast, only three Heels were in double figures in the ACC Tournament Final against Virginia. Yes, this was against the best defense in the country, but that is what you face during March.

In losses against Florida State, Virginia Tech, NC State, and Clemson, there was a lot of unbalanced scoring, with UNC relying on individual performances to carry the team. No more than three starters scored in double figures in the aforementioned losses.

And it is not just Luke Maye and Joel Berry II scoring in those games. Different combinations of players had offensive outbursts in those losses. For a deep NCAA Tournament run, the offensive system needs to work as it did against Duke in the ACC Tournament.

Who Contributes off the Bench?

This is tied directly to balanced scoring. Garrison Brooks was the key scorer off the bench versus Duke, hitting three shots from the field, including two big dunks, and four from the free throw line.

Brooks played 16 minutes against Duke, and made his presence known in both the first and second halves. With another six points in nine minutes of action from Sterling Manley, the freshman duo of Brooks and Manley made a big difference

In contrast, Brooks scored on three free throws in 14 minutes versus Virginia. Manley only logged two minutes. Brandon Robinson was the only other Carolina reserve to score on Saturday night.

If picking just one bench player to watch in the tournament, it must be Seventh Woods. The backup point guard must provide turnover-free minutes when Berry needs a breather. Although Pinson can be the floor general in Berry’s absences on the floor, the Tar Heel offense will be more productive with him in his normal role.

With questions about the extent of Cam Johnson’s injury, combined with the grind of the NCAA Tournament and potential west coast swing, there must be solid minutes from the bench.

Perimeter Defense

It seems as though this is always in the “Three Things to Watch” or “Three Things Learned” articles. However, it remains because it is such a persistent issue for this Carolina team.

The lack of balanced scoring may not have been a surprise against top-ranked Virginia, however the regression in perimeter defense by the Heels was a factor in the loss.

On Friday, Duke shot 26.1 percent (6-23) from three. Virginia made 52.9 percent (9-17) from beyond the arc.

Against Virginia, the three pointers were not necessarily the difference as Carolina made one more three than the Cavaliers. However, the efficiency in which UVA made them is the concern.

Once again, there were issues with coming off screens and closing the gap between the ball and the defender. Simply put, the Tar Heels cannot allow open looks like on Saturday or the right team at the wrong time will send UNC packing their bags.


What are the strengths and weaknesses of Carolina as the NCAA Tournament begins? What will you be looking for Friday afternoon and beyond? Let us know in the comments below.