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Heel Tough Blog: Alabama Preview (NCAA Tournament Sweet 16)

Associated Press

Later tonight, the Tar Heels return to action in the NCAA Tournament, as they play Alabama in the Sweet 16. Carolina advanced to their NCAA record, 31st Sweet 16, after blowout wins over Wagner and Michigan State, in what Hubert Davis was calling the “Charlotte Invitational”. This weekend, Carolina will look to make the Final Four, for the second time ever out of the West Region, the last time was in 1981. 

Alabama has made back-to-back Sweet 16s under Nate Oats and is looking to make their first Elite Eight since 2004. They got to Los Angeles after beating Charleston and Grand Canyon, last weekend. The Crimson Tide boast the highest scoring offense in all of college basketball, at over 90 points per game. Marc Sears leads them in scoring at over 21.5 points per game, as he’s one of four double-digit scorers. They run an NBA-style offense, meaning they only want to shoot three-pointers, layups, or free throws. They make 11.0 threes per game, the third most in the country, and they attempt 30.1 threes per game, the fourth most in the country. 

These two played an instant classic last year in Portland, a game that Alabama won in four overtimes, in the first of many examples of how UNC just wasn’t good enough to win close games last year. While both teams are certainly different from last year in terms of personnel, the players that are back from last year will remember how intense and physical that game was, which should set the scene for another great game later tonight. 

Hubert Davis has guided Carolina to two Sweet 16s in both times he’s led Carolina to the NCAA Tournament, and now he’ll look to take them to a second Elite Eight as well. Once you get to the second weekend, you aren’t playing any cupcakes, so Carolina will need to bring their best effort if they want to advance to the Elite Eight. Here’s how they can their Tournament run going: 

  1. Defend the 3: This is the best three-point shooting team that Carolina has played all season long, and every lineup that Alabama will put on the floor tonight, will feature five players all capable of making perimeter shots. Their 11.0 made threes per game are the third most in the country, and they attempt the fourth most, which means, they won’t stop shooting regardless if they are making or missing. This means that Carolina needs to be prepared to close out on the perimeter, and get back in transition defensively because will look for the three, and not the layup. Alabama is going to make their fair share of triples in large part because they’re going to shoot their fair number of them, but Carolina can’t allow them to get hot, because they are more than capable of shooting them out of the gym. 

  2. Outplay Their Backcourt: This matchup features the best guard matchup, in R.J. Davis and Marc Sears. Both guys average over 21 points per game, and both do it very efficiently. It’s going to be fun watching them play against one another, and it will set the tone for the biggest matchup in tonight’s game. March is all about guard play, and tonight whichever backcourt plays the best, will win the game. This is where Elliot Cadeau will play an important role for Carolina because he’s going to need to make the shots that are there for him to make. Also, good Cormac Ryan needs to show up, along with Seth Trimble making an impact off the bench. Defensively, Carolina needs to keep their guards in check, because they are as explosive a backcourt they’ve seen all season long. 

  3. Rebounding: From a statistical standpoint, Alabama matches up well with Carolina on the glass, but Carolina needs to win the rebounding battle, to control pace and tempo. Michigan State was the first team in 24 games to outrebound Carolina last weekend in the second round, but UNC made the most out of their offensive rebounds, grabbing 5 and turning them into 10 second-chance points. Armando Bacot will have an advantage on the inside, and this feels like a game that he dominates from start to finish. If Carolina can control the glass, and make the most out of their offensive rebounds, they can wear down Alabama as the game moves along, putting them in position to win. 

Series History:

  • The Tar Heels are 8-5 all-time against the Tide. UNC is 2-1 against Alabama in the NCAA Tournament. Alabama beat Carolina in 1976 in the first round in Dayton, the Tar Heels edged the Tide in 1982 in Raleigh en route to winning the NCAA title, and won a second-round matchup in Cincinnati in 1992. 

UNC in Los Angeles:

  • UNC is 2-3 in Los Angeles in the NCAA Tournament. The Tar Heels beat Ohio State in the 1968 national semifinals and Louisville in the 1972 third-place game and lost to UCLA in the 1968 title game, Florida State in the 1972 semifinals, and Wisconsin in 2015 in the Sweet 16.


  • North Carolina - 9th overall. Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 119.2 (17th) Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 93.1 (6th) 

  • Alabama - 14th overall. Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 125.1 (4th) Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 102.3 (101st) 

TV Info:

  • Tonight’s game is set to tip at approximately 9:39 PM on CBS. 

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