The case for North Carolina: Why the Tar Heels can win the men’s NCAA Tournament

The case for North Carolina: Why the Tar Heels can win the men’s NCAA Tournament

USA News


It’s impossible to quantify the overwhelming confidence boost given to North Carolina with its 81-77 win against rival Duke.

In the crowning moment in one of college basketball’s defining rivalries, the Tar Heels were temporarily wobbled by the Blue Devils in the final minutes of the first half and the start of the second but had answer after answer in what will immediately be placed among the great games in the history of the men’s NCAA Tournament.

But confidence has never been in short supply as UNC reversed a slow start to the regular season to reach the national championship game.

As the Tar Heels head into a matchup with Kansas, this combination of belief, terrific play from guard Caleb Love and the dominance of forward Armando Bacot make UNC the favorite to capture an unexpected national championship under first-year coach Hubert Davis.

Along with Davis, who has proven himself by engineering this turnaround in the second half of the year, Love and Bacot have been the tournament’s breakout stars.

After a slow start against Duke, Love put together a second half that will last in program history. He went 8-of-12 from the field and 3-of-4 from 3-point range to score 22 points in the final 20 minutes and 28 points overall to pace the Tar Heels’ win.

His ability to quickly flip momentum makes Love the biggest piece of the puzzle for the Kansas defense. But keying on Love would open up opportunities for RJ Davis, Leaky Black and forward Brady Manek.

Much like the Jayhawks, UNC has the ability to spread the floor with multiple shooters and find open looks.

After being named the Most Outstanding Player of the East Region, Bacot had 11 points and 22 rebounds; he’s had 20 or more rebounds in the Tar Heels’ last two games and 10 or more rebounds in 11 of his last 12 games.

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The potency of the UNC offense stems from the ability to stretch the court from 3-point range and bully opponents on the offensive glass. The Tar Heels picked up another 17 offensive rebounds against Duke, leading to 22 second-chance points.

The win against the Blue Devils came despite bumpy performances from Black, who scored just eight points, and Manek, who made a handful of 3-pointers and had a team-best three blocks but finished with just 14 points. 

“They’re good,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “They really put a lot of pressure on you offensively.”

Overall, UNC has scored at least 70 points in five of its last six tournament games, with the exception the 69-49 win against Saint Peter’s to reach the Final Four.

While Kansas has a very good offense of its own — the Jayhawks are averaging 75.8 points per game in the tournament — the Tar Heels have the weapons and scheme to pull off the most unexpected national championship in program history.

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