The North Carolina Tar Heels will take on the Providence Friars in the NCAA Tournament on Friday night in San Antonio. Providence got an automatic bid to the Big Dance after winning the Big East Tournament, while the Tar Heels received an at large bid after strong non-conference wins and a long winning streak in the ACC. Before tip-off on Friday night, here are some things to watch for UNC vs Providence.
Both North Carolina and Providence rank first in their respective conferences in offensive rebounding percentage, so the battle on the glass between these two squads will be fierce. North Carolina depends on offensive rebounds to help their subpar offense get easy buckets, so having success on the offensive glass is a major key to victory for Carolina. UNC has struggled recently with offensive rebounding in two losses against Duke and Pitt, but the Heels have an opportunity to right the ship on the offensive boards against the Friars. Look for Kennedy Meeks (15.3 OR%) and Providence forward Kadeem Batts (12.2 OR%) to be the most active on the glass.
Bryce Cotton vs. Marcus Paige
If the game is close in the second half, this game will boil down to a matchup of Marcus Paige vs. Bryce Cotton, much like the UNC NC State game became a duel between Paige and T.J. Warren. Cotton ranks first in the country in percentage of minutes played at 96.3, while Paige plays nearly as much at 88.2 percent of the team’s minutes. Also, Cotton and Paige are both very talented offensively, averaging over 20 points a game while being efficient on the offensive end of the floor. These two are the leaders and best players on their teams, and they will also be guarding each other for much of the game. It may become a game of who can tire the other out first and who has enough left in the tank in the second half to lead their team to victory.
Free Throw Shooting
The first day of the tournament alone should serve as proof for how important free throw shooting is in the NCAA tournament. Teams like NC State were sent packing after their free throw shooting failed them in the final minutes of regulation or overtime. The Tar Heels have struggled all season at the free throw line, and don’t expect the Tar Heels to be magically better today against Providence. Watch the Heels free throw shooting and for if UNC can hit their free throws when they have to with the game on the line.
Marcus Paige suffered a left thigh contusion in the ACC Tournament, but he says it has healed at this point. Watch early in the game for any signs of pain in Paige, because if he is hurt, even just a little bit, it will be really hard for Carolina to pull out a win. Paige draws the defensive assignment on Bryce Cotton and must be able to produce on the offensive end for the Heels. UNC can’t afford to have any part of Paige’s body be even a tiny bit injured.