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UNC vs. UCLA: Three Things to Watch

Carolina enters the Sweet Sixteen as slight underdogs, but there are intriguing match-ups that could be fortuitous.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament Second Round-North Carolina vs Baylor Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The Tar Heels travel to the home of Danny Green this weekend to take on UCLA in the Sweet Sixteen. The Wells Fargo Center will be filled with blue, as Carolina and UCLA fans alike pack the arena to see an intriguing contest between two blue bloods looking to break through a wide-open East region. With the top two seeds Baylor and Kentucky knocked out, the prize of a Final Four berth looks that much closer.

UNC was well on its way to clobbering both of its opponents in Fort Worth, TX, until an erroneous...

...Flagrant-2 call knocked Brady Manek out of the Baylor game, and the Heels off kilter. UNC eventually won in overtime. UCLA had a closer shave than expected against #13 seed Akron, but really stepped on Saint Mary’s neck to earn a trip to Philadelphia. Here are three things to watch for the Sweet Sixteen matchup:

Brady Manek affected at all?

In the first two games of the NCAA Tournament, Brady Manek has been balling out of control. The stretch forward scored 28 points against Marquette (at a 67 FG% clip, including 50% 3PT) and 26 against Baylor... with ten and half minutes left in the game! With 40 friends and family at Dickies Arena and a smooth stroke in fourth gear, Manek easily could have gone for 40 points.

But then the Flagrant-2. It was a high elbow, absolutely. Deserving of a Flagrant-1? Of course. Worthy of an ejection. GTFOH. What happens moving forward? Does Manek become tentative, gun shy? Or does he continue to be the best player Carolina has on the court? How free he plays will go a long way to determine a winner. His defense has improved, but for him to win his matchup, another 20+ point performance—especially one that stretches the floor for Bacot—will be essential.

Caleb Love back on track

If Marquette was TSA, Caleb Love would be on the no-fly list. The sophomore guard terrorized the Golden Eagles, hitting six three-pointers in a barrage that Carolina fans don’t usually expect to see from him until the final five minutes of regulation.

Maybe more important than his three-point stroke is his penchant for calmly hitting free throws at the end of the game. When UNC was in full meltdown mode in the last ten minutes of the Baylor game, Caleb Love was desperately missed for 1.) his ball handling and 2.) his free throw stroke.

Caleb has been like Mariano Rivera, closing out games with his free throws. Think back to the Syracuse overtime win, or his perfect night at the line in Cameron. Caleb has shown that he has the technique and the stones to hit his freebies when the game is on the line.

Tar Heel fans would likely prefer a dominant 10+ point win, but UCLA plays slower and is tough on the boards. Possessions will be at a premium. Having an ace in the whole like Caleb Love performing on offense, but more importantly being available at the end of the second half, is a game-changer.

RJ Davis vs Tyger Campbell

RJ Davis will no doubt be glad that his defensive assignment won’t physically outmatch him. UCLA’s starting point guard Tyger Campbell stands only 5’11”, 180 lb compared to the 6’, 175-lb Davis. Despite the size parity, Campbell poses a number of problems with his offensive acumen. He has scored 16 points in both Tournament games so far, but did so in different ways each time.

Against Akron, Campbell went 3-6 from three-point range, and only got to the free throw line once while distributing five assists. Against Saint Mary’s, Campbell did not hit any 3’s and only attempted one. This time, he did most of his damage from the charity stripe, going 8-8 while managing four assists.

RJ Davis will have his hands full, and he must pay attention at all times, because Campbell can score in a variety of ways. If RJ can win this head-to-head matchup, it’ll go a long way towards helping the Tar Heels overcome the Bruins for the sixth consecutive time.