For the first time under Hubert Davis, Carolina will compete in the NCAA Tournament, as they’ll take on Marquette later today in the /9 matchup in the East Region. Carolina concluded their regular season, and conference tournament action with a respectable 24-9 mark, after going 15-5, in an uneven ACC. This is the second consecutive season the Tar Heels have been an 8 seed in the NCAA Tournament, and it marks the fifth time in program history they’ve been an 8 seed. UNC is 7-4 as an 8, including 3-1 in the first round of the tournament. Back in 2000, they made it to the Final Four as an 8 seed, after being the last team selected to the tournament field.
Marquette enters with a 19-12 record, after going 11-8 in the Big East. They are led by Justin Lewis who leads the team in both scoring and rebounding. Darryl Morsell is the only other player that averages double figures scoring for a team that averages over 74 points per game. Shaka Smart has done a solid job with a roster that consists of 10 freshmen, adapting to play a different style of basketball. Against Top 25 competition, the Golden Eagles went 6-6, so they are as battle-tested a 9 seed you’re going to find in the field.
In the middle of February, it wasn’t clear if Carolina would even make the NCAA Tournament, and now they enter playing their best basketball of the season, and a trendy pick to make a run. There isn’t a lot of postseason experience on the roster, outside of Brady Manek and Leaky Black, as the trio of Caleb Love, R.J. Davis, and Armando Bacot have only played in one NCAA Tournament, last year’s loss to Wisconsin. Here's how they can avoid an early exit from the Big Dance
Guard Justin Lewis: Marquette goes as Justin Lewis goes, as Carolina will have their hands full with the talented forward. You’d imagine that Leaky Black will draw the assignment of defending Lewis, a challenge he’s been faced with plenty of times during the season. In UNC’s ACC Tournament defeat to Virginia Tech, Black picked up two first-half fouls, and it changed the rest of the game in a negative way. Black is going to need to defend Lewis at a high level and do so without fouling, as Carolina isn’t equipped to have others guard him.
Rebounding: Marquette allows over 39 rebounds per game, which is 349th in the country. Carolina averages roughly 40 total rebounds per game, which means there’s a chance that the Heels can control the game with their work on the boards. The Golden Eagles don’t have a natural matchup with Armando Bacot, so a big game on the glass isn’t out of the question. If Carolina wins the rebounding margin, it likely means they’ll win the game.
Turnovers: Given the style of play Marquette employs, they force their fair share of turnovers (13.8), as they try to speed the game, and make you uncomfortable. Carolina has gotten better as the season has gotten longer, at taking better care of the basketball. Now that every game is a win-or-go-home scenario, every possession is of the utmost importance. In addition to forcing a lot of turnovers, Marquette also turns it over to the tune of over 12 per game, so Carolina can force them into mistakes, and get easy baskets out of their mistakes.
Make Perimeter Shots: Carolina is going to need their guards to play at a high level, as guard play usually determines who wins or loses in March. UNC was just 9-49 from behind the arc in Brooklyn, as tired legs caught up to them. You can count on Brady Manek to make his share of perimeter shots, but they are going to need Love and Davis to do the same as well.
UNC in the NCAA Tournament: This will be the 10th time Carolina has played in the NCAA Tournament in the Longhorn state. They have an overall record of 7-7 in Texas, with the last game being the 2016 national title game against Villanova.
Series History: Carolina owns a 4-2 record against Marquette, after losing at home last season to the Golden Eagles. The two teams have met twice in the NCAA Tournament, back in 1977, and 2011.
UNC - 30th overall. Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 113.1 (26th) Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 97.0 (64th)
Marquette - 48th overall. Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 109.7 (59th) Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 95.8 (44th)
TV Info: Today’s game is scheduled to tip-off at 4:30 on TBS.
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