Exploring UNC’s Easiest Road To The Final Four


There’s no skirting the fact that Chapel Hill has its work cut out for itself. If (and hopefully, when) the Tar Heels leave the court victorious on Thursday, Keeping It Heel presents the best case scenario among remaining games for UNC to keep dancing all the way to the Final Four.

Chapel Hill will square off against #1 Wisconsin on Thursday. Surely one of the most talented teams in the land, the Badgers are led by Naismith-Finalist Frank Kaminsky. The 7’0” 234 pound forward is considered to be neck-and-neck with Duke’s Jahlil Okafor in the Player-Of-The-Year voting and will cause some potential headaches for UNC. That said, a victory of this magnitude against a team like Wisconsin on the March Madness Sweet Sixteen stage would. Be. Huge.

Following what would be a massive confidence booster victory, Chapel Hill will face the winner of #6 Xavier and #2 Arizona. Let’s assess both squads.

#2 Arizona

First, the bad news: The Wildcats are legit. Arizona is the Pac-12 champ and victorious in its first 12 games—as well as its last 13 games. The Wildcats haven’t lost since February 7th. By tip-off, UNC will have to battle Arizona’s 47 days of perfection.

Over the course of the regular season, they toppled #8 Utah, #9 Gonzaga, #13 Utah again and #15 San Diego State. Mind you, these are nationally ranked squads at the time.

The Wildcats have climbed the mountain top as well. They are 1997 NCAA champs, have 4 Final Fours under their belt and 31 tournament appearances. They most likely won’t fold under pressure. Experience has a way of playing in a team’s favor—even if it’s a different set of players.

So what does UNC exploit? Attack, attack, attack. Chapel Hill must keep the fast breaks going. Arizona shoots an unbelievable 49% from the field (6th in the nation) so they’re used to high-percentage shots. By the Tar Heels running the Wildcats early and often, they wear out Arizona’s legs for the late second half track meet UNC is apt to bring out.

Also, by attacking Arizona’s Stanley Johnson (14 points, 7 rebounds) and Brandon Ashley (12 points, 5 rebounds) Chapel Hill hopefully puts these two in foul trouble early. Then the Wildcats must change tactics going forward—all favorable to UNC.

#6 Xavier

The Musketeers (Don’t worry, I didn’t know that either) are who UNC wants to face, far and away.

Chapel Hill must still be careful. Xavier can be dangerous if they get on a roll. They average 16.4 assists per game (9th in the nation) and shoot a high 47% from the field (21st in the nation). It’s important UNC doesn’t let 6’10” senior center Matt Steinbrook get into a rhythm. The big man puts up 12, yanks down 7 and dishes 2.4 every night.

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What does UNC exploit? Chapel Hill must focus on getting the ball in the paint. Xavier has abysmal rebounding numbers—only 35 total. They’re ranked 149th. The Tar Heels must hammer the ball inside.

Also, Chapel Hill must use its experience to its advantage. UNC has a history of prestige while Xavier does not. The Musketeers have never won a championship nor been in any Final Fours. They sport an overall losing March Madness record at 21 total wins to 24 total losses.

A victory against either team puts Chapel Hill in the Final Four.