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Three Key Takeaways.
- North Carolina’s defense was not the same as it was at the ACC Tournament. After shutting down two of the nation’s top offenses in the ACC Tournament (Notre Dame & Virginia), nobody expected a #16 seed to light up the Tar Heels just five days later. But that’s what occurred in the first half of today’s game, as Florida Gulf Coast shot 60 percent from the floor against North Carolina before the intermission. Roy Williams’ team was victimized often by dribble penetration which led to easy buckets, and a stark lack of teamwide energy also showed up on the boards, with Florida Gulf Coast holding a +7 rebound edge at the half. The team of course picked up its energy level after halftime, holding the Eagles to only 30.3 percent shooting the rest of the way.
- Florida Gulf Coast was not a typical #16 seed. Normally you don’t see automatic bid teams that advance from the First Four built like Joe Dooley’s squad. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the Eagles are better than the average #16 seed — just that they are constructed differently. Usually those teams are built around plucky little guards that survive by driving and kicking for long-range bombs. Florida Gulf Coast is not a small team (it ranks 93rd in the country in average height), nor does it rely much on perimeter shooting — ranking 348th out of 351 Division I schools in three-point attempts. That style of play worked against the Tar Heels for a half, but it eventually played right into North Carolina’s hands — a team that plays in a similar way but is bigger and better at it.
- The backcourt of North Carolina is becoming elite. We all recognize that the strength of this North Carolina team is in the paint. The Tar Heels have an All-American up front in Brice Johnson and excellent depth to complement him in the post. But while those interior players have been playing at a high level all season, it has been the improvement in the backcourt that puts North Carolina in position for a deep NCAA Tournament run. Marcus Paige and Joel Berry can each handle the ball, shoot from distance (although not consistently) and drive to score. They are also playing good defense on the perimeter. Today this duo combined for 24 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists and only two turnovers. They also helped hold the Eagles to 2-of-11 shooting from three-point range.