NCAA Tournament: What should UNC expect from Marquette in first round?

The NCAA Tournament field is officially set, as the UNC basketball program will match up with Marquette in the first round of play on Thursday.

Rejoice! We no longer have to monitor the latest bracketology rankings (especially Jerry Palm… boy do we need a break from him!)

The NCAA Tournament field is officially set, and the UNC basketball program now knows their fate. North Carolina clinched their tournament berth, as they earned the No. 8 seed in the East Region.

Who will they play, you ask?

Well, in his first NCAA Tournament appearance as a head coach, Hubert Davis and his Tar Heels will match up with Shaka Smart and Marquette.

Marquette, coming out of the Big East conference, posted a 19-12 record (11-8 in the Big East) during the 2021-2022 season. The Golden Eagles are coming off a 74-63 loss to Creighton in the conference quarterfinals.

This is a rather interesting matchup, given that there is past and current history between the two programs.

Let’s start with the present, as we’ll take you back to the offseason.

Although he won’t be available for the game, Dawson Garcia did transfer from Marquette to North Carolina. How fitting would it have been if Garcia had the opportunity to suit up against his former team.

This matchup won’t serve as the first instance in which these two programs squared off in the NCAA Tournament. In their two previous tournament matchups, North Carolina is 1-1, having won the last battle during the 2011 Sweet 16.

Overall, the Tar Heels are 4-2 overall against the Golden Eagles in their limited history. After winning four straight, Marquette won the last meeting, which occurred on February 24, 2021 (a matchup in which Garcia had a game-high 24 points).

So, what can we expect from Marquette when these two programs square off for the seventh time?

For starters, the Golden Eagles have a veteran coach in Shaka Smart. In his second season at the helm, Smart has had some prior NCAA Tournament success, as he put his name on the coaching map with his Final Four appearance as the head coach at VCU during the 2011 tournament.

Teams under the direction of Smart typically operate with a “havoc” defensive mindset,  as his players heavily utilize the full-court press and focus on pressing after-made baskets to disrupt opponents’ timing of offensive sets.

For teams like North Carolina, whose guards have had some turnover issues, this could be an issue, as the pressure could force the Tar Heels ball handlers to make some bad decisions.

Offensively, Marquette features a rotation of players who have shown the ability to put the ball into the basket. During the regular season, the Golden Eagles had eight players averaging five or more points a game and only had two players average double-figures.

Redshirt freshman Justyn Lewis is the go-to player for Marquette, as he was the team leader in points (17.1) and rebounds (7.9) per game. Graduate student Darryl Morsell, a transfer from Maryland, has been a nice addition for Smart and the Golden Eagles, as he averaged 13.5 points over 30 games played.

If you take a look at the team numbers, both teams are pretty much evenly matched. However, the one area that the Tar Heels have a slight advantage in is three-point shooting, as they shot the ball at a slightly higher rate than the Golden Eagles.

Nonetheless, it should be another good first-round matchup against relatively equal squads. We’ll have to wait and see if the UNC basketball program can mount a run in this year’s tournament.

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