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Heels hope top-seed success strikes again

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After winning 15 of its last 17 games — with the losses coming to fellow No. 1 seeds Duke and Virginia — North Carolina was rewarded with the top seed in the NCAA Tournament’s Midwest Region. But as the third overall seed, the Tar Heels will have to travel for their first two rounds rather than enjoying closer-to-home cooking.

Carolina’s draw does include a few difficult hurdles. The Tar Heels are also paired with No. 2 seed Kentucky (27–6), which is the third-highest-ranked (7) of the No. 2 seeds in Ken Pomeroy’s power ratings. The Wildcats beat the Heels in Chapel Hill in December, outrebounding UNC by a 44–33 margin and bullying Carolina on the interior.

Should Carolina advance to the Sweet 16, there’s a decent chance the Heels would face Kansas (25–9, No. 20 KPOM) in Kansas City, which would surely feel like a road game against the Jayhawks. Fifth-seeded Auburn (26–9, No. 13 KPOM) is also capable of sizzling from 3-point range, which has been an Achilles’ heel for UNC at times this season.

This is the eighth time the Tar Heels have earned a top seed in the Roy Williams era. Carolina has not disappointed in the previous seven, which yielded five Final Four appearances, 4 championship games and three national championships. Carolina has not been eliminated prior to the Elite Eight as a No. 1 seed under Williams.

POOR SHOOTING DOOMS HEELS

While the added presence of Zion Williamson (31 points, 11 rebounds) was certainly a significant factor in Carolina’s 74–73 loss in the ACC Tournament semifinals Friday to a Duke team the Tar Heels had beaten twice (albeit without Williamson) in the regular season, one stat line essentially defined the loss for Carolina — 4 of 27 (14.8 percent) from 3-point range.

The Heels also shot poorly (2–20) from outside in the first matchup against Duke, but that hardly mattered as Carolina scored 62 points in the paint in a dominant performance against a shell-shocked Blue Devil team. This time, Duke scored 50 points in the paint to Carolina’s 38, and without better outside shooting, Carolina just couldn’t offset that gap by enough to get the win.

Carolina may yet get one more chance to end the season with a win over their rivals. Should this be the year these two programs finally face one another in the NCAA Tournament for the first (!) time, it would be in the national championship game.

ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT

You can bet Roy Williams will be working extra on end of game scenarios with his team over the next week, as Carolina looked disorganized and confused while squandering a great opportunity to win in the closing seconds against Duke. It appeared that point guard Coby White was playing to pass and expecting movement from others on the floor, while the others appeared to expect him to go hard to the basket. The confusion led to White needing to force a difficult shot that left too little time for a game-winning putback.

This Carolina team hasn’t had much experience in comparable situations this season, so the failure against Duke should be instrumental in ensuring the Heels are prepared and understand their roles if late-game heroics are necessary in the NCAA Tournament. 

LEAKY BLACK IS BACK

After missing six weeks with a high ankle sprain, Leaky Black was cleared for action in the ACC tournament, though the freshman forward did not play in either game. With another week to regain strength under his belt, Friday’s first-round matchup against Iona may mark his return.

Last week, Roy Williams explained that given Carolina’s recent success, Black will have to earn any time he gets. 

“The rotation we have, the minutes we have, if you’re going to try to come back at this time of year, you’d better be coming back really good,” the UNC coach said.

STAT OF THE WEEK

17. That’s how many times UNC has been a No. 1 seed, the most of any program in the country.

Jason Staples has covered college football since 2007. You can follow him on Twitter @DocStaples and check out more of his work at InsideCarolina.com.

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