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Heel Tough Blog: Wagner Preview (NCAA Tournament First Round)

Peyton Williams - Getty Images

During Sunday night’s selection show, Carolina learned that they were a #1 seed for the year’s NCAA Tournament, but it was unknown their opponent, as they had to wait until a winner emerged between Howard/Wagner in the First Four. That game opened up the tournament last night, with Wagner winning 71-68, after Howard had multiple clean looks to force overtime in the game's closing seconds. Now that Wagner has advanced to the First Round, the West Region is officially set. 

Wagner enters this First Round matchup at 17-15 and made the NCAA Tournament after taking down Merrimack in the NEC Championship Game, after finishing 6th in the conference in the regular season. They have two players that average double figures scoring, led by Melvin Council, who averages 14.8 points per contest. Council also leads the Seahawks in rebounding and assists, establishing himself as their best all-around player. As a team, Wagner struggles to put the ball in the basket, as they averaged a little over 63 points per game which is 353rd in college basketball, and shoot 39% from the field, and 32% from behind the arc. They make up for it defensively, as they allow just over 62 points per game, the 7th fewest in the country. Their perimeter defense is as good as you’re going to find at their level of Division I college basketball, holding teams to just 30% shooting from behind the arc. 

Carolina returns to the NCAA Tournament last season, meaning this is the first time they’ve played in the tournament, since losing the 2022 national championship game to Kansas. When you look at the roster, there isn’t a lot of NCAA Tournament experience on it, outside of R.J. and Armando, and their experience stems from one deep tournament run. With that being said, Carolina is the fifth oldest team in all of college basketball, and hopefully, all that experience pays dividends starting today. 

It’s time to move on from last week’s disappointment and start the most important winning streak of the season. After earning a #1 seed, Hubert Davis told his team they needed to win two games in the Charlotte tournament to advance to the Los Angeles tournament. Here’s how Carolina can advance to the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament:

  1. Dictate Tempo: Wagner only has seven available players to play today, and it’s not like before they got shorthanded, they wanted to play an up-and-down game. One of the reasons that Wager scores so few points is that they don’t play many possessions, and Carolina needs to take advantage of that. Conventional wisdom tells you that the more talented team wins the game if you play a high number of possessions. Carolina has done a good job running off of misses this season, but they haven’t always run off of makes. Today they need to run as early and as often as possible. The first domino that could allow Wagner to pull off the upset, is to control the tempo of the game, and that means making this a half-court affair. If Carolina can get out in the open floor, they could put the game away in the first half. 

  2. Limit Melvin Council Jr: The Seahawks only have two players that average double figures scoring, and Melvin Council Jr leads them at over 14 points per game. When you look back at recent upsets in the NCAA Tournament, the mid-major program typically features one player, and the power conference team struggled to take away his impact, and allowed him to be the best player on the floor. If Wagner’s other players step up and make plays, and that’s how you get beat, you live with that. You can’t live with allowing Wagner’s best player to have a career day against you. After the defensive struggles last week against NC State, it’s fair to expect this team to respond in a big way on that end of the floor. The best way for that to happen is to take away Melvin Council Jr and make their other players beat you because the numbers would suggest that’s not possible. 

  3. Get Role Players in Rhythm: One of the big reasons Carolina lost in the ACC Tournament final was because the role players didn’t make plays that were there to be made. It’s not fair to call a Harrison Ingram or a Cormac Ryan a role player, but they need to get back into a rhythm offensively because Carolina will need them if they hope to advance to Los Angeles next weekend. Furthermore, Seth Trimble and Jalen Washington struggled in that loss last week, and they need to get back to being difference-makers off the bench. 

UNC in the NCAA Tournament: 

  • This is Carolina's 53rd NCAA Tournament appearance, second most all-time. The Tar Heels are 131-49 all-time in the NCAA Tournament. Carolina has the most wins in NCAA Tournament history (131), most Final Fours (21), second-highest winning percentage (.728), second-most games (180) and third-most NCAA titles (6). The Tar Heels won NCAA titles in 1957, 1982, 1993, 2005, 2009 and 2017. Carolina played in the national championship game six other times (1946, 1968, 1977, 1981, 2016 and 2022). This is Carolina's 18th time as a No. 1 seed, the most in NCAA Tournament history. Carolina's No. 1 seeds include 1979, 1982, 1984, 1987, 1991, 1993, 1994, 1997, 1998, 2005, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2012, 2016, 2017, 2019 and 2024. Carolina advanced to the Final Four as a No. 1 seed 10 times (1982, 1991, 1993, 1997, 1998, 2005, 2008, 2009, 2016 and 2017) and won NCAA titles as a No. 1 seed in 1982, 1993, 2005, 2009 and 2017. The Tar Heels advanced to the Final Four out of the West Region in 1981. This is the eighth time UNC will play in the West Region: 1978, 1981 (2 seed), 1986 (3 seed), 1988 (2 seed), 1999 (3 seed), 2015 (4 seed), 2018 (2 seed), 2024 (1 seed). All of these stats are via 

UNC in the NCAA Tournament in Charlotte: 

  • The Tar Heels are 166-27 all-time in Charlotte. That includes a 16-2 record in Spectrum Center from 2006-24. Carolina has played in Spectrum Center in each of the last two seasons in the Jumpman Invitational. The Tar Heels beat Michigan on 12/21/2022, and Oklahoma on 12/20/2023. The Tar Heels are 12-1 in the NCAA Tournament in Charlotte (1-0 in 1975, 1-0 in 1982, 1-0 in 1984, 2-0 in 1987, 2-0 in 2005, 2-0 in 2008, 2-0 in 2011 and 1-1 in 2018). In 2018 in the most recent NCAA Tournament in Charlotte, the No. 2 seeded Tar Heels beat Lipscomb and lost to Texas A&M. UNC is 34-2 in NCAA Tournament games in the state of North Carolina: 12-1 in Charlotte, 7-0 in Greensboro, 9-1 in Raleigh and 6-0 in Winston-Salem. These are provided by


  • North Carolina - 9th overall. Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 117.8 (25th) Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 93.2 (6th) 

  • Wagner - 291st overall. Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 96.1 (333rd) Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 106.0 (175th) 

TV Info:

  • Today’s game is scheduled to tip at 12:45 on CBS. 

The Four Corners Podcast:


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