North Carolina and Providence meet Friday in San Antoni0 in the second round of the NCAA Basketball Tournament. The teams are in the East Regional with North Carolina holding the six seed and Providence seeded eleven. The top four seeds in the East are Virginia, Villanova, Iowa State and Michigan State.
It has been a year of starts and stops for the Roy Williams-coached Tar Heels, riding a roller coaster for the first half of the season before reeling off 12 straight wins in late January through March. A loss to rival Duke in the final game of the regular season and a quick one-and-done loss to Pittsburgh in the ACC tournament have given North Carolina plenty time to think about how far they want to go in the post-season. The Heels have some impressive wins this year over tournament teams like Louisville, Michigan State and Kentucky. On the other hand, they have lost to tournament-bound teams Texas, Syracuse and Virginia, not to mention less-than-impressive teams like Belmont, UAB, Wake Forest and Miami.
Sophomore guard Marcus Paige leads the team in scoring (17.4) and assists (4.3), and gets help from James Michael McAdoo’s 14.2 points and 6.7 rebounds per game. As a team, the Tar Heels rank in the top-50 nationally in three big offensive categories. They are 9th in rebounding (39.8), 24th in assists (15.6) and no. 49 in points (76.3). Here’s a fun fact: North Carolina is 11-0 since 1999 in “round of 64” games in the NCAA basketball tournament.
Providence is one of those teams that seem to be playing their best basketball as they head into post-season play. Since the middle of February the Friars won seven of their final nine games, including the three wins they needed to win the Big East tournament. Their only two losses were to the top two teams in the conference, Creighton and Villanova, who are also got bids to the NCAA tournament. The Friars defeated Creighton in the tournament finals and also beat them one out of two in the regular season. This is the first appearance for Providence in the tourney since 2004, and they have not won a tournament game since 1997.
It is probably a good thing that Providence is playing well in the post-season, because it is hard to find positives in looking at the regular season. They have only two wins over NCAA tournament teams, beating Xavier and Creighton. Conversely they also have losses to Xavier and Creighton. The only category where the Friars rank in the top-50 is blocked shots, ranking no. 46 with an average of 4.9 per game. Providence gets strong leadership from senior guard Bryce Cotton, who is averaging over 21 points per game.
Team by team statistics show this should be a close game, as North Carolina has the edge in points per game (76.3-73.2) and field goal percentage (46.3-45.2) and Providence gets the nod in free throw percentage (78.1-62.5) and 3-point shooting percentage (35.0-33.6). Providence is the hot team and North Carolina is the inconsistent team. Deciding on a winner in this game would be much easier if it was known which Tar Heel team was showing up. Experience says to go with the momentum in the NCAA Basketball Tournament. The Tar Heels are favored by four but the pick here is Providence in the upset, winning outright 81-78.
Commentary by Chuck Podhaisky