The No. 1 seed in the East Region, the North Carolina Tar Heels, with match up with the No. 9 seed Providence Friars on Saturday from Raleigh, NC. The Tar Heels will be looking to return to the Sweet 16 for the second season in a row, while the Friars are attempting to make the Round of 16 for the first time since 1997.
North Carolina was only ahead of No. 16 seed Florida Gulf Coast 41-40 at halftime on Thursday, but came out in the second half with a purpose and pulled away for an 83-67 victory. The Tar Heels were led by Brice Johnson, who posted 18 points, seven rebounds and eight blocks. Four other players scored in double digits for North Carolina.
The Friars needed a layup with just over one second left to come from behind and beat the USC Trojans in the first round. Rodney Bullock, who made the game-winner, had 16 points and 10 rebounds while the team’s leading scorer Ben Bentil scored 19 and pulled down nine rebounds.
What To Watch For
Johnson continues to carry the Tar Heels on his back this season, but he will have a tougher matchup in this game going up against Bentil. Roy Williams would love to see Marcus Paige return to form as the tournament heats up so that he can ease off of Johnson a little bit. If that’s going to happen, this would be the perfect time for him to step up.
The Friars were able to survive USC despite their star player Kris Dunn being in some foul trouble and only contributing 16 points and four assists in 27 minutes. If Providence is going to upset North Carolina, the future NBA draft pick is going to have to have a huge game along with Bullock and Bentil. If one of the three falters, the Friars won’t have any chance.
As we’ve seen in this tournament, anything can happen. I believe that the Friars can give the Tar Heels some problems, but North Carolina is just too deep. Providence relies too heavily on three players, and while they’re great players, that’s a lot to ask against a team with the depth of the Tar Heels. North Carolina will pull away in the end and move on to the Sweet 16.