Round of 32 Matchup: #1 UNC v. #9 Providence
- CoachingRoy Williams is one of the five best colleges coaches in the game today. He’s won two NCAA titles at North Carolina since coming over from Kansas for the 2003-04 season. However, the Tar Heels haven’t been to the Final Four since winning it all back in 2009. Regardless of the recent “slump”, Williams is very good on the sidelines, and he usually has top talent on the floor to work with every season.Ed Cooley has the Friars in March Madness for the third straight year now in his fifth season at Providence. Two years ago, Cooley and the Friars lost their opening NCAA game to Williams and the Tar Heels by two points. With his first Tournament win under his belt now, Cooley knows what it takes to beat UNC.
- OffenseThe Tar Heels have six players that scored at least nine points per game this season, and that kind of depth and balance gives UNC one of the most efficient offenses in the country. The Tar Heels rebound well (41 boards per game), and they pass the ball well, too (18 assists per game). At 47.7 percent, the Tar Heels make a lot of shots. The one “weakness” is three-point shooting, where they only hit 31.5 percent this year.The Friars have three players that score in double digits, led by forward Ben Bentil (21.1 ppg) and guard Kris Dunn (16.0 ppg). Bentil is also the leading rebounder with 7.8 board per game, while forward Rodney Bullock supports him well (11.7 ppg, 6.9 rpg). Overall, however, Providence only shot 42.1 percent from the floor this year, and there’s a big dropoff after the top-three scorers on this team.
- DefenseThe aforementioned rebounding prowess really helps UNC defensively, too, and the Tar Heels have four players—Joel Berry II, Marcus Paige, Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks—that can pick the opponent’s pocket at any time. Add in the blocking ability of Johnson and Meeks, and UNC is a top defensive team nationally, as well. It’s tough to find a weakness on this team.Providence’s defense starts and begins with Dunn’s ability to steal the ball (2.5 times per game), but if the opponent gets the ball in the air, Bentil and Bullock are often there to block the shots (combined 2.5 times per game). The Friars are not dominant rebounders, so they rely on these elements for their effective defensive schemes.
- Bench DepthThis is clearly UNC’s best team since the 2009 championship squad, as Williams can go eight-men deep with this roster. That presents a tough challenge for any opponent with that much depth on the bench for the Tar Heels to turn to if needed. Only two starters averaged more than 30 minutes per game this year, which means UNC’s bench is ready and steady.Providence has its top three players (noted above), and then it has five other players that Cooley regularly rotates into the games. That’s a pretty good level of depth, although the real issue is the overall drop-off from the first three guys. The Friars don’t have the quality off the bench as much as they have the quantity of guys on the bench.
This would be a monumental upset if the Friars beat the Tar Heels. Perhaps not as crazy as Michigan State losing on Friday, but it would be pretty large on the NCAA scale. UNC is just too good in every facet of the game this season, and with Williams on the sideline, the Tar Heels have an experienced and tested leader. The Friars are a good team, but look for UNC to win this one, easily, on their way to another Sweet 16 appearance.