In the interest of full transparency, I am writing this article immediately after UNC’s big win over UCLA in the Sweet Sixteen. I am still jacked up on adrenaline, and honestly my blood pressure is probably way too high to even write at the moment. Caleb Love was an absolute stud in the second half, showing just how dangerous he can be when he is locked in. We wouldn’t have made it to the Elite Eight without him, which seems to be the theme for various players throughout this tournament (Manek and RJ Davis against Baylor, Manek and Love against Marquette). In short: it’s another great day to be a Tar Heel.
However, I have to quickly shift gears, because we need to talk about this game against Saint Peter’s. It’s a bit obvious to say that this team has been unstoppable in a single-elimination tournament, but this is truly a Cinderella team that cannot be taken lightly. Despite that fact, the Heels are the eight-point favorite in this one according to Draftkings.com. I feel safe saying that this may be one of UNC’s biggest fights of the season regardless, with the prize being a ticket to the Final Four. Let’s go ahead and discuss three ways they can pull it off.
Dealing with the team with nothing to lose
Using the Purdue game as a frame of reference, the Peacocks are a team that will straight-up fight. Without any context, you’d think the team that had the higher field goal percentage, the most rebounds, most assists, and least amount of fouls would be the team to move on to the Elite Eight. However, Saint Peter’s got to the free-throw line for 21 attempts, shot better from three, and took care of the ball better than the Boilermakers. Those were the keys to their win, and it could happen against UNC.
Here’s the thing, though: I feel like UNC’s offensive firepower has been crazy throughout this tournament. Last night wasn’t even their best performance, but Caleb Love showed a high level of toughness in the second half. We are conditioned to think that the bottom will off out from under this team at any moment, but let’s be honest: this team is playing their best basketball, and they’ve been winning the games that they didn’t win back in November/December. Saint Peter’s is going to make the Heels play hard-nosed, ugly basketball, and so the Heels need to keep their boot straps tightened, because it’s the only way they’re coming away victorious.
Playing without fouling
It is no secret that the NCAA Tournament has had a referee problem, and it’s become so obnoxious that literally everybody has noticed. Regardless, one thing that Saint Peter’s has done is gotten to the free-throw line a million times in their first three games, and it’s really been a huge part of their game. They shot 21 free throws against Kentucky, 31 against Murray State, and 21 against Purdue, with Kentucky being the only team that got to the line more than they did. The Wildcat learned the difficult lesson that making free throws are important, and that’s why they are sitting at home right now.
One of the Heels’ biggest tasks is to not get into a street fight with the Peacocks, and to stay out of foul trouble. Last night the Heels only sent UCLA to the line for eight free-throw attempts, which is a great sign going into tomorrow. They haven’t been a stranger to getting to the line themselves, so they will want to attack the Peacocks while maintaining composure themselves. Quite the balancing act, but I have faith that they can pull it off.
As I mentioned earlier, Caleb Love and Brady Manek have been standout players in this tournament, with RJ Davis also having an excellent first two games. There have been some sneaky good performances from some of the other players as well — Armando Bacot had 14 points and 15 rebounds last night — but scoring aside, the question is always who is going to take over the next game. That is how they have been staying afloat, and that is how they are going to move onto the Elite Eight.
At the moment, I have no idea who the next man up will be. It very well could be that RJ Davis is up to bat and he drops 20+ on the Peacocks with some help from Manek and Bacot, but that is purely a guess. All I know is that someone has to be “the guy” tomorrow night, so I hope someone is feeling inspired to have the game of their lives...before what will hopefully be the next game of their lives.