2018 NCAA Tournament: Tar Heels best and worst matchups

CHAPEL HILL, NC - FEBRUARY 27: (L-R) Seventh Woods
CHAPEL HILL, NC - FEBRUARY 27: (L-R) Seventh Woods /

If the Tar Heels are going to make it to the Final Four, they could use a little help. These are the matchups that present the biggest problems.

The NCAA Tournament is back and with it comes a lot of excitement for the North Carolina Tar Heels. They’re looking to make their third consecutive national championship game and win a second straight national title.

As a 2-seed, they have a great shot at doing so. However, as many top seeds of the past have shown, a lot of times the road to the Final Four has more to do with matchups than seeding. The Tar Heels lost 10 times this season and in all 10 losses three things stood out:

  1. The Tar Heels scored fewer points. In the team’s 10 losses, the Tar Heels averaged 70.2 points per game, compared to the 86.7 they averaged in wins.
  2. Teams shot a high percentage from behind the arc. This has less to do with number of threes taken than the percentage that went in. In their 10 losses, teams made 44 percent of their threes compared to 36 percent in their wins, despite only one less three made per win.
  3. Teams rebounded with the Tar Heels. This doesn’t mean they necessarily outrebounded UNC, but in their 10 losses the Tar Heels rebounding margin was only two per game compared to the 14 per game in wins.

So with that in mind what are the best and worst matchups for the Tar Heels in the West Region on the road to San Antonio?

Round of 32

Potential matchups: Texas A&M, Providence

Best matchup: Providence Friars

Assuming that the Tar Heels beat Lipscomb, the round of 32 doesn’t offer much choice to choose from. With that said, the Tar Heels would be in much better position facing the Friars.

Of the two teams, Providence allows the most points and is the worse rebounding team. In fact, the Friars are the second-worst rebounding team in the region among the top 14 seeds.

They are the better team from the perimeter, but at 33 percent, would still be a welcome sight for UNC.

NEW YORK, NY – MARCH 09: Rodney Bullock
NEW YORK, NY – MARCH 09: Rodney Bullock /

Worst matchup: Texas A&M Aggies

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Aggies would be a less favorable match-up for North Carolina. Texas A&M ranks fifth nationally in rebounds per game and would be able to limit the Tar Heels’ advantage there.

The only plus to playing the Aggies would be their three-point shooting. Texas A&M ranks last among the top 14 teams in three-point percentage and would likely be unable to take advantage of UNC’s biggest weakness.

The Tar Heels should be favored against either squad, especially with the game in Charlotte, but the Aggies might be the harder of the two to beat.

Sweet Sixteen

Potential matchups: Michigan, Houston, San Diego State, Montana

Best matchup: Montana Grizzlies

The Grizzlies would be the ideal opponent for North Carolina. Of the four teams UNC could potentially face, Montana allows the most points and is the second-worst rebounding team of the group.

Additionally, they have made the fewest three-pointers this season of the top 14 teams while also having the 10th-worst percentage.

Montana enters the tournament as a 14 seed. Just so you know, only two 14 seeds have ever made the sweet 16, so not only are they the most ideal based on their style of play, they would also be the most ideal based on their seed.

ORLANDO, FL – MARCH 11: Rob Gray
ORLANDO, FL – MARCH 11: Rob Gray /

Worst matchup: Houston Cougars

I know Michigan is a trendy Elite 8 pick. They shoot it well from three and are the second best defensive team in the region. I would’ve picked them here if not for their rebounding. The Wolverines are the worst rebounding team in the region and it’s not even close.

So instead, I went with Houston. The Cougars hold teams to right around 65 points per game and are in the top-30 in rebounding. They also shoot nearly 39 percent from behind the arc, making them a very dangerous matchup for the Tar Heels.

Elite Eight

Potential matchups: Xavier, Gonzaga, Ohio State, Missouri, Florida State, South Dakota State, UNC Greensboro, NC Central, Texas Southern

Best matchup: Florida State Seminoles

Just to be fair, I went on and eliminated the winner of the NC Central/Texas Southern play-in game. Not only are 16 seeds winless against one seeds, but these two teams combined to go 34-34 on the season.

With those two obvious choices eliminated for best matchup, I picked Florida State.

First of all, UNC almost beat the Seminoles earlier this season in Tallahassee. FSU survived the game by one and benefited from committing nine fewer fouls and shooting 13 more free throws.

Regardless, the Seminoles are a good matchup for the Tar Heels. They allow more points per game among the top 14 teams in the region, as well shooting the worst from downtown among the seven potential matchups.

They are also just a middle-of-the-pack rebounding team. Throw in the revenge factor and UNC would be excited to see Florida State in the Elite 8.

LAS VEGAS, NV – MARCH 06: Zach Norvell Jr.
LAS VEGAS, NV – MARCH 06: Zach Norvell Jr. /

Worst matchup: Gonzaga Bulldogs

I was really tempted to go with South Dakota State here. Despite being a 12-seed, the Jackrabbits would be a dangerous team for the Tar Heels. They made the most three-pointers of any team in the region and did so at a 40.3 percent clip, 12th-best in the nation, third-best in the tournament.

They are also ranked in the top-25 nationally in rebounds per game.

However, as dangerous as that it is, Gonzaga is worse. There is a reason that the Bulldogs are the trendy pick to win the West and a lot of that has to do with how they match up against UNC.

The Bulldogs are the best rebounding team of the group and the second-best defense unit. They also hit 37.4 percent of their threes.

Throw in the revenge factor from last season’s title game and this would be a tough game for the Tar Heels to come out on top.

In the end, good teams will win despite the opponent. However, certain opponents are easier than others.

Next: NCAA Tournament West Region preview

For UNC to get to the Final Four, they will need to play good defense, score a lot of points, and as always, get a little luck.