What North Carolina Needs to Do to Beat ProvidencePosted by Chris Kehoe on March 19th, 2014
North Carolina has its hands full tonight with its first round match-up against #11 Providence. The Friars are red-hot at the moment, coming off a Big East Tournament title that included an upset win over Creighton. Head coach Ed Cooley placed a premium on winning the title in Madison Square Garden because the Friars hadn’t won it since 1994 and only once in the past 34 years. Providence may have lucked out in avoiding top seed Villanova after the Wildcats were upset by Seton Hall at the buzzer, but they still managed to get past the Bluejays and college basketball’s likely NPOY. The Friars’ best player, senior guard Bryce Cotton, was a unanimous first team all-Big East selection and he is a handful for any defense. A capable scorer who has increased his distribution skills this year, Cotton is much like North Carolina’s Marcus Paige in that they are both rail-thin, ball-dominating guards that are relied upon heavily from the perimeter. Their battle at that position will be one of the key match-ups in this game, and if Paige can play Cotton even or better, the Tar Heels will be well positioned to advance.
- KenPom projection: UNC 75, Providence 71 (63% UNC, 37% PC)
- FiveThirtyEight.com projection: UNC 68%, PC 32%
The game will be decided in a classic clash between a very good defense and a very good offense. Providence has the 28th-best tempo-free offense in the nation, while UNC possesses the 19th-best defense, per Ken Pomeroy. But because Providence’s offensive capabilities rest so heavily on the shoulders of Cotton, if North Carolina’s defense can force him to score over their long-limb forwards in the paint, they may be able to win that battle. On the other end, look for the Tar Heels to pound Providence in the paint and rely on Paige down the stretch to carry them. The Tar Heels will have to keep Brice Johnson and James Michael McAdoo out of foul trouble, a struggle at times, but a bigger worry may be on the other end of the floor. Woes at the free throw line could keep Providence in the game, and if North Carolina struggles late from the stripe, it could be the shot in the arm the Friars need to keep the game close down the stretch (think: Saint Louis vs. NC State.
Coming off the ultimate high of a conference championship, Providence will be confident but may also suffer from the “Super Bowl effect” of having given their all with not much left in the tank. North Carolina will need to refocus on what worked during its late season winning streak and not channel the emotions that saw them drop a game to Pittsburgh in the ACC Tournament. They have a major edge in the coaching department, with Hall of Famer Roy Williams conditioned for this time of the year — his Tar Heel teams rarely lose early and his experience in these situations will be a major plus versus Cooley. His Tar Heels clearly have the advantage in breadth of talent in this match-up, and while Cotton may arguably be the best player in this game, Paige and McAdoo are heralded stars in their own right. The Tar Heels’ overall depth and coaching and NCAA Tournament experience should lift Carolina to the victory in this one versus a resurgent and confident Providence team unaccustomed to the pressures of March Madness.