The North Carolina Tar Heels enter the NCAA tournament coming off of a very strange season that saw them have very high highs and extremely low lows. The Tar Heels looked to have righted the ship when they pulled off 12-straight victories before falling to the Duke Blue Devils in the regular season finale and to the Pittsburgh Panthers in the ACC tournament.
Now, the Tar Heels are a No. 6 seed in a strong East region that also includes conference rival Virginia, Big Ten tournament champions Michigan State and Big 12 tournament champions Iowa State. While all of those teams are extremely talented, the toughest match-up for the Tar Heels could come in their first game against the Big East tournament champions and No. 11 seed Providence Friars.
Providence comes into the game flying as high as any team after claiming the tournament championship with a solid victory over the Creighton Bluejays. Providence put up an exceptional effort on defense, holding Creighton to only 17 first half points.
Creighton is a much better outside shooting team than North Carolina and knowing that should scare coach Roy Williams. The Tar Heels have only one legitimate three-point shooter in Marcus Paige and nearly every other player is only effective inside. If Providence can figure out a way to slow Paige, the frontline of James Michael McAdoo, Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks must contribute. The Tar Heels have been outdone on the boards recently, and while they were one of the strongest rebounding teams during this season, they must get out of that funk to hang with the Friars.
Providence guard Bryce Cotton also offers another significant challenge. Cotton is a potent scorer (21.7 PPG) and the Tar Heels’ only chance to slow him is to put J.P. Tokoto on him. Doing this presents a problem because Tokoto’s athleticism will be needed on offense, and if guarding Cotton drains him, his scoring could be drastically cut.
North Carolina has the advantage inside, but this is time of the year when players like Cotton shine. If he can go off, the Tar Heels could be one-and-done.