March Madness Final Four Preview – North Carolina Tar Heels
North Carolina will be playing in its first Final Four since 2009, which is a pretty long dry spell for such a prestigious program. The Tar Heels (32-6) had little trouble advancing out of the difficult East Region of the 2016 NCAA men’s basketball tournament as the No. 1 overall seed. However, if UNC can sustain that momentum for two more games still remains an intriguing question. It starts on Saturday with a game against Syracuse (23-13), a Cinderella No. 10 seed out of the Midwest Region. Before we get to that matchup, let’s take a look back at how the Tar Heels won their four games in March Madness in the tourney’s first two weeks. Perhaps the player with the largest impact for UNC has been Marcus Paige. The talented, but inconsistent shooting senior guard has found his shooting stroke in the tournament, averaging 14 points per game and shooting 48 percent (13-27) from three-point range. Six of his threes were in the Sweet Sixteen victory against Indiana. Senior first-team All American Brice Johnson leads the team in scoring (17 points) and rebounding (10.5) per game. Game-by-game recap of North Carolina’s run to the Final Four: First Round UNC 83, No. 16 Florida Gulf Coast 67. The Heels had a sluggish opening 20 minutes, leading just 41-40 at intermission. But Johnson scored 18 points and had a career-high eight blocked shots as Carolina held the Eagles to 2 of 13 shooting to begin the second half after Florida Gulf Coast hit on 60 percent of its shots in the opening half. Round of 32 UNC 85, No. 9 Providence 66. North Carolina used a second-half surge offensively to dispatch of the Friars. Johnson recorded a double double of 21 points and 10 rebounds, and the Tar Heels shot an impressive 52.5 percent from the field and enjoyed a big 42-24 rebounding edge. Sweet 16 UNC 101, No. 5 Indiana 86. Paige made four of his seven three-pointers in the opening minutes, and the Hoosiers could never mount a serious comeback. North Carolina was on fire in the first half, hitting better than 60 percent of its field goal attempts. Paige scored 21, Johnson had another double double (21 and 10), Kennedy Meeks had 15 points and Justin Jackson and Joel Berry II had 14 each. Elite 8 UNC 88, No. 6 Notre Dame 74. The Irish made a second-half run, racing to a 52-51 lead before North Carolina answered with a 12-0 run to take control of the All-ACC region final. Johnson posted another double (25 points, 12 rebounds). Paige added 13. UNC again dominated on the boards 32-15. Final Four The Tar Heels face another ACC foe, defeating the Orange 84-73 and 75-70 during the regular season. But the Orange are riding a hot streak, coming back from 16 down in the second half to knock off No. 1 seed Virginia in the regional final and North Carolina have lost multiple games this year after having double digit leads. The key for Carolina will be solving the 2-3 zone preferred by Coach Jim Boeheim and beating the press when strategically employed by SU. Michael Gbinije, Malachi Richardson and Trevor Cooney are Syracuse’s top players. Prediction – The zone will slow up UNC enough to pull another surprise. Syracuse 72, North Carolina 68.