After a few tense closing minutes, the Tar Heels advanced to the 3rd round of the NCAA Tournament with a 79-77 win over Providence. The Heels will now get ready to face the 3rd seed in the region and the Big 12 Tournament champs- the Iowa State Cyclones, who are a perfect 8-0 on neutral courts this season. Here are a few keys to victory for Carolina.
Continue to dominate the glass
In the ACC Tournament, the Heels got dominated on the boards by Pitt, losing the rebounding battle 43-35. Against Providence, UNC got back to winning the battle on the boards, with a 40-26 advantage. That trend must continue against the undersized Cyclones. Among the Cyclones top 7 players, no one is taller than 6-7, and that player, Georges Niang, just broke his foot and is out for the rest of the season. In contrast, the Heels rotate six players that are 6-8 or taller. Although the Heels only outrebounded Iowa State by one per game during the season, Carolina’s clear size and height advantage point toward another dominant effort on the glass.
Be prepared for any and everything on defense
The Cyclones lost their most versatile player in Georges Niang to a foot injury against North Carolina Central- he was 3rd on the team in scoring, 3rd in assists, 4th in rebounding, and 2nd in made 3-point shots. The sophomore was also their best post player and the team was 10-1 when he scored 20 or more this season. However, Iowa State head coach Fred Hoiberg has quickly become one of the best coaches in college basketball and one of its best in-game coaches at making adjustments. He has built a great offensive team with many interchange parts with headed by Melvin Ejim, the Big 12 Player of the Year, and Deandre Kane, who both average over 16 points per game. But they are not limited to only these two players- there is also forward Dustin Hodge and guard Monte Moore who each scored 15 points in their 2nd round win. The lost of Niang will likely limit Iowa State to only a 6-man rotation just like Providence had, but the Cyclones rotation is a more talented group than the Friars were.
Defend the 3-point line
The Cyclones are one of the most potent 3-point shooting teams still in the tournament. Only Mercer, Villanova, and Creighton have hit more 3-point shots than Iowa State, who hit 274 this season for 35%. This season each of their top 7 players hit at least 20 3-pointers, led by Naz Long with 59. The Heels have done a good job at defending the 3-point shot this season- only Clemson and Duke allow fewer makes in the ACC than the Heels all while allowing teams to only shoot 31% from behind the arc. The 3-point shot is a huge weapon for the Cyclones so the Heels defense must be up to the task.
Pound the ball inside
The same way the Heels need to dominate the boards on both ends of the court, they need to make sure they dominate the paint and pound the ball on the inside using their size advantage. The Heels will play as many post players as the Cyclones will play at all. Both teams love a fast pace, up and down style but the Heels must remember what their strength is in this match-up and pound the bound the ball inside to James Michael McAdoo, Brice Johnson and the rest of the Heels’ stable of big men.