Final Four Fact Sheet: North Carolina Tar Heels

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 28th, 2016

Now that the Final Four is set, our writers have put together a fact sheet on each of the four teams still remaining. Next, North Carolina.

How The Tar Heels Got Here

Roy Williams Leads North Carolina to the Final Four for the 19th Time in School History (USA Today Images)

Roy Williams Leads North Carolina to the Final Four for the 19th Time in School History (USA Today Images)

East Region Champions. North Carolina faced little resistance from Florida Gulf Coast in the first round and then used a strong second half against Providence to advance to the Sweet Sixteen in Philadelphia. Once there, the Tar Heels throttled Indiana on the strength of a 1.42 points per possession effort. In the regional final, North Carolina answered a spirited charge from Notre Dame midway through the second half by dominating the paint in pulling away for a 14-point win.

The Coach

Roy Williams. This is Williams’ eighth Final Four appearance in 28 seasons as a head coach, the fourth-most all-time behind Mike Krzyzewski, John Wooden and his mentor, Dean Smith. Williams has faced his share of criticism over the last couple of years given the academic scandal involving North Carolina, but his team has successfully blocked out that distraction this season. Williams is moving towards the end of his tenure as a head coach (some retirement rumors have been floating around) and his team will head to Houston as the clear favorite to cut down the nets for what would be Williams’ third national championship at his alma mater.


The Tar Heels love to push the pace and are absolutely lethal in transition, which means that teams hoping to beat North Carolina must execute a half-court game. Because the Heels are incredibly strong in the paint with Brice Johnson, Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks, that strategy can also be a double-edged sword. This is an elite offensive team that averages 83.0 points per game and ranks first nationally in offensive efficiency. Of North Carolina’s six losses this season, four of those defeats were among the slowest games the Tar Heels played all year.


Brice Johnson Continues to Impress as UNC is Final Four Bound (USA Today Images)

Brice Johnson Continues to Impress as UNC is Final Four Bound (USA Today Images)

  • Interior play. Brice Johnson’s tour-de-force season has continued deep into March, as he has posted at least 20 points and 10 rebounds in three of North Carolina’s four NCAA Tournament games. Johnson is the nation’s best big man but he isn’t the only player who can do damage in the paint. North Carolina’s guards are great at getting into the lane and Isaiah Hicks and Kennedy Meeks are always there to cash in alongside Johnson.
  • Offensive rebounding. The Tar Heels are a relentless offensive rebounding team. Johnson leads the team in rebounding but Hicks and Meeks are even better on the offensive glass on a per-possession basis. For a team that isn’t a particularly great jump shooting team (especially from long distance), offensive rebounding greatly enhances its efficiency. Keeping the Tar Heels long and athletic big men off the glass is an arduous task.
  • Free throw shooting. This has been a bugaboo for Roy Williams and his teams over the years but isn’t the case with this group. North Carolina shoots just shy of 75 percent from the charity stripe with Joel Berry II leading the way at 86 percent. Johnson, Hicks and Marcus Paige are each strong from the line as well. Having big men who can score from the foul line is a huge asset for any team — in close games, you can expect Berry II and Paige to have the ball in their hands.


  • Three-point shooting. North Carolina was dead last in three-point shooting in ACC play, converting only 28.3 percent of its attempts. The good news is that only 14 Division I programs attempt fewer threes than this team, so Williams clearly recognizes where his bread is buttered. Paige, Berry II and Nate Britt are capable shooters but the Tar Heels rely almost exclusively on their interior play to win games. Given that they’re currently sitting at 32-6 and the favorite to cut down the nets in Houston, that would appear to be a good strategy.
  • Three-point defense. The three-point line has not been kind to North Carolina on either side of the floor this season. In five of UNC’s six losses, its opponents shot at least 35 percent from beyond the arc against them. There has always been some debate about the meaningfulness of the three-point defense statistic, but the numbers don’t lie and this is something opponents have to exploit in order to beat North Carolina.
  • Getting to the foul line. For a team that relies so heavily on skillful interior play, North Carolina does not get to the foul line as often as it should. The Tar Heels rank 273rd nationally in free throw rate, and they bested only Louisville and hapless Boston College in ACC play in that statistic. Should they encounter a game when their offense is not humming at the level they’re accustomed to, the Tar Heels will need to find a way to get to the line and score. They’re a good free throw shooting team as a whole, however, and that can win games on otherwise off nights.


Brice Johnson (16.8 PPG, 10.5 RPG). The 6’10”, 230-pound senior converts 61.6 percent of his field goal attempts and has a usage rate of nearly 25 percent. When the Heels need a bucket, Johnson is the man to get it. He is the most dominant interior player in the nation and has posted an astounding 23 double-doubles this season, including three in the NCAA Tournament.


Marcus Paige Led His Tar Heels to Their First Final Four Since 2009 (USA Today Images)

Marcus Paige Led His Tar Heels to Their First Final Four Since 2009 (USA Today Images)

Marcus Paige (12.3 PPG, 3.8 APG). Paige has been through a lot of ups and downs during his career in Chapel Hill but he has grown as a leader each and every year he has worn Carolina blue. His biggest asset to this team is his leadership and basketball IQ, but North Carolina reaches another level offensively when he is hitting shots (see: Sweet Sixteen against Indiana). The Tar Heels put up 101 points against the Hoosiers with Paige’s 6-of-9 shooting from behind the three-point line opening the rest of the offense.


The Heels are the only remaining #1 seed in this Tournament and should be the favorite to cut down the nets on Monday night. They are playing at a very high level and will encounter a familiar conference foe in the semifinals. That said, North Carolina isn’t unbeatable — the other three teams traveling to Houston can certainly topple Roy Williams’ team. In a national championship game against either Villanova or Oklahoma, North Carolina will have a huge edge in the paint. The Wildcats and Sooners are built on guard play while the Tar Heels have the better frontcourt. This has long been considered a guards’ event so the contrast in the title game, should North Carolina get there, will definitely be one to watch.

Brian Otskey (269 Posts)

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