The North Carolina Tar Heels (28-6) enter the NCAA Tournament as the No. 1 seed in the East region. Despite falling short of expectations early, the Tar Heels did not have a bad loss this season. Every team to defeat North Carolina made the NCAA Tournament except for the Louisville Cardinals. Those Cardinals had extenuating circumstances.
The Tar Heels avenged earlier losses in 3 of their last 4 wins, and are riding a five game winning streak into the first round match up with No. 16 FGCU Eagles. Prior to the First Four match up, plenty of people had the Tar Heels breezing into the second round of the tournament. However, FGCU put on a terrific performance during their 31-point win over Fairleigh Dickinson. That should put the Tar Heels on notice.
A first round performance is not indicative of how a team will play throughout the tournament. Still, the Tar Heels want to show how strong they are as a No. 1 seed. As a program, North Carolina hasn’t reached a Final Four since winning the national title in 2009. That season, they won every NCAA Tournament game by double figures. They aren’t expected to be as dominant this postseason, but falling short of a title will be disappointing.
Five Things to know about North Carolina:
1. Offense: The Tar Heels shoot 48 percent from the field this season. However, these stats can be misleading. They are one of the most explosive offensive units in the nation scoring 82.3 points per game. When they are using their inside game, the Tar Heels shoot 54 percent from the field. That’s when North Carolina is unstoppable. The Tar Heels lead the nation with 864 2-point baskets made. Yet, they may have a flaw that can prove fatal.
North Carolina struggles when they aren’t knocking down shots from the perimeter. Overall, they shoot 31.4 percent from 3-point range, and teams will try to force their offense to thrive on the outside.
Joel Berry is the best 3-point shooter on the team at 39 percent. He’s made 59 3-pointers, while Marcus Paige is second on the team with 54 3-pointers. However, Paige only shoots 32 percent from deep.
2. Defense: The Tar Heels give up 69.6 points per game on the season. In the six losses, opponents averaged 76.5 points per game. Therefore, North Carolina wants to keep teams below the 70-point mark. They are almost guaranteed to win. They hold teams to 41 percent shooting from the field. However, opponents have taken 145 more 3-pointers, while only making 79 more this season. As long as North Carolina can limit their opponents from deep, the inside presence should win out.
3. Rebounds: The Tar Heels are a top five offensive rebounding team, and top five in total rebounding. Led by Brice Johnson’s 10.6 rebounds per game, North Carolina can punish any opponent on the offensive glass. The rest of the team does a good job of team rebounding, but Johnson is the only dominant force on the boards.
3. Assists/ Turnovers: With 612 assists, the Tar Heels have the second most in the country. Three players have over 100 dimes, but Paige leads the way with only 3.7 assists per game. That means there’s plenty of ball movement when North Carolina’s offense is flowing. As a team, the Tar Heels have 370 turnovers, while forcing 446 turnovers.
4. North Carolina is a 22 point favorite over Florida Gulf Coast. They are playing close to home in Raleigh, North Carolina at PNC Arena. Their home crowd should be raucous in the first game of the night.
5. North Carolina Tar Heel Depth: North Carolina is one of the deepest teams in the country. They should be able to wear down opponents in the field of 68. Four players average double figures, and Johnson leads the way at 16.6 points per game. With Paige, Berry, and Justin Jackson all averaging 12 points, the Tar Heels have a nice nucleus for their offense. But they have two more players that average nine points per game apiece. Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks form a nice complement to Johnson in the paint. Nate Britt and Theo Pinson combine to score 10 points off the bench, and give the backcourt valuable minutes.