Well, we can’t call this column “The Path To Houston” anymore. Why? Because the Tar Heels have made it to the Final Four! So today (and Monday if all goes well), we’ll now call this column “The Path To Houston (Glory), Part 5”. For the second game in a row, the Tar Heels will match up for the third time this season with an ACC foe: the 10th-seeded Syracuse Orange. At this point, however, you can throw the seeds out the window because there are only 4 teams left playing, and they are all playing at an extremely high level. Here’s what you need to know for Saturday night’s match-up.
Final Four: Syracuse
- 23-13 (9-9)
- 10th in ACC
- Stat Leaders (of contributing players)
- Points: Michael Gbinije – 17.6
- Assists: Michael Gbinije – 4.4
- FG%: DaJuan Coleman – 54.1
- Rebounds: Tyler Roberson – 8.4
- Steals: Michael Gbinije – 2.0
- Blocks: Tyler Lydon – 1.8
- Minutes: Michael Gbinije – 37.9
Previous 2015-16 Games
- Game 1 – January 9. @ Syracuse. 84-73 UNC. This was Boeheim’s first game back from suspension, was a home game for the Orange, and the Tar Heels had never gone 4-0 under Coach Williams to start ACC play. It had all the makings of the Saints first game back in the SuperDome after Hurricane Katrina, in which the Falcons didn’t stand a chance. The game was tied at 58 with 6:31 to go, and was only a 2-point game (66-64) with 3:19 to go. The Tar Heels then went on a 18-9 over those final minutes to win by 11. The key was not shooting over the vaunted Orange zone(18.8 3PT%), but attacking it from the inside. Brice Johnson had a career-high 8 assists (Paige also had 8 assists), 5 of which came in the final 8:13 of the game as he picked apart the zone from the high post. 7 of the 8 were for dunks or layups. 4 went to Isaiah Hicks who finished the night with 21 points.
- Game 2 – Febrauary 29. Senior Night. @ North Carolina. 75-70 UNC. On this night, Syracuse showed a more determined effort to stop the ball from getting into the middle of the zone. Marcus Paige once again had 8 assists against the Orange. Brice Johnson had 14 & 10 for just another, ho-hum *yawn* double-double. Tar Heels led by as many as 13 in the 2nd They never trailed, but Syracuse cut the lead to 3 several times within the last 7 minutes, including :07 to go. It was Joel Berry who sent his senior teammates to a senior night victory with two free throws to ice it.
- Depth – Syracuse’s doesn’t have much. Their depth is very similar to that of Duke. 5 players average 30+ minutes a game with 2 other players averaging 17 and 10 minutes a game. Despite the lack of depth, the zone helps the Orange stay out of foul trouble. At the same time, UNC’s depth and pace should wear out the thin Syracuse bench.
- 337 – Syracuse’s rank in defensive rebounding percentage. 3 – North Carolina’s rank in offensive rebounding percentage. The Tar Heels must exploit this advantage.
- In the last 6 NCAA Tournament games as NRG Stadium in Houston (Where the Final Four will be played), the competing teams shot a combined 27.6% from 3. Guess who relies on that shot? Syracuse, Oklahoma, and Villanova. Guess who doesn’t rely on that shot? The North Carolina men’s basketball team. Advantage Tar Heels.
The Record Book
- Brice Johnson needs 1 rebound to set the Carolina record for most rebounds in a season. He currently has 399 and is tied with Tyler Hansbrough. This would also make Brice the only player in program history with 400 rebounds in a season.
- Marcus Paige has made 292 3-pointers in his career. He is already #1, but could be the first Tar Heel to hit 300.
Syracuse Key Reserves
|Points per game
|Adj. Offensive Efficiency (Rank)
|Adj. Defensive Efficiency (Rank)
|Offensive Reb Rate
|Defensive Reb Rate
- Carolina’s 3 point shooting. In the first two games against Syracuse, the Tar Heels shot 18.8% and 24.0% from downtown. So far in the NCAA Tournament, the Tar Heels, as a team have shot 38.2% (26-68) on 3-pointers. Though they’ve done a good job getting to the middle of the Syracuse zone this year, if Carolina can hit 3s and extend the zone, this game could get ugly.
- How do Syracuse’s freshmen handle the Final Four stage? From a Syracuse standpoint, it will be interesting to see how freshmen Malachi Richardson and Tyler Lydon (who have both been playing well) respond to playing in this Final Four atmosphere. Will the lights overwhelm them, or are they too young to know any better? Richardson, while inefficient, has been a big time scorer. Lydon has really come on of late, especially on the defensive end. Although he comes off the bench, Lydon is getting starter’s minutes.
Main Key to the Game:
Though Carolina has been shooting the 3 ball better, the most important piece of this game will be getting Brice Johnson the ball early and often at the free throw line. From there he can take (and make) that 15-footer all day or pick the zone apart. Carolina’s ability (or inability) to get the ball to the middle of the zone most likely determines which of these teams will be playing for the national championship on Monday night.
The Path To Houston, Part 1
The path to March Madness glory is rarely paved with chalk. But what if it was? These are the teams the Tar Heels would play:
Round 1: Florida Gulf Coast
- 21-13 (8-6)
- 3rd in Atlantic-Sun
Round 2: USC
- 21-12 (9-9)
- 6th in Pac-12
Sweet Sixteen: Kentucky
Elite 8: Xavier
- 27-5 (14-4)
- 2nd in Big East
Final Four: Virginia
National Championship: Kansas
- 30-4 (15-3)
- 1st in Big 12
In the meantime, this is the first (of hopefully 6!) part of The Path To Houston, looking at the teams UNC will play on the road to Houston. First up, Florida Gulf Coast:
- 21-13 (8-6)
- 3rd in Atlantic-Sun
- Mascot: Eagle
- teamrankings.com gives UNC a 95% chance to win this game
- UNC is favored by 22.
- You might recall that in the 2013 NCAA Tournament, FGCU, as a 15 seed, beat Georgetown (#2) and San Diego State (#7) before losing to Florida (#3) in the Sweet Sixteen. That team was coached by Andy Enfield, who is now at USC, a potential 2nd round match-up for the winner of this game.
- Interestingly, FGCU averages more possessions a game (73.3), than does UNC (72.4). Should be a fun, fast-paced, up-and-down game. Afterwards, we’ll probably hear Roy say something about the discrepancy in talent between the two teams.
- Adjusted Offensive Efficiency
- FGCU – 102.8 (179th)
- UNC – 119.6 (5th)
- Adjusted Defensive Efficiency
- FGCU – 103.1 (163rd)
- UNC – 93.8 (12th)
- FGCU strengths
- Defensive Rebounding
- Shooting Accuracy
- FGCU weaknesses
Quick Hitters from Carolina’s 61-57 win over Virginia in the ACC Championship Game
- So is Carolina tough now? Can we agree on that? Okay thank you, moving on.
- The first possession for each team was indicative of the defense that would be played. Carolina had a turnover when Virginia doubled the post. Virginia had a shot clock violation when Carolina played 30 seconds of tight defense.
- Carolina plain and simple had too many turnovers (8) in the first 13.5 minutes of the game. After that there were only 2 more the entire game. So no turnovers in the last 7:26 of the 1st half and no turnovers in the last 17:53 of the 2nd
- It was these early turnovers and offensive rebounding (16-5 in favor of UVa) that kept Virginia in the game. In an interesting twist, Carolina did the work on the defensive end that allowed these lapses to be overcome. In the end, 51.1 FG% for UNC and 36.5 FG% for Virginia.
- Though it took him a couple minutes to get settled, Brice Johnson marvelously navigated the double teams from Virginia – ably deciphering when to score and when to pass. In fact, to go along with his pretty standard 12 point, 9 rebound night, Brice lead the team in assists with 5, against 2 turnovers. It felt similar, although not quite as prolific, to the first game against Syracuse in which Brice simply picked the Boeheim zone apart. Would love for Brice to get some more double-doubles to break the Carolina single-season record, but if sacrificing a couple points or rebounds means being able to get teammates involved, so be it.
- Not sure how Virginia plays as tough defensively as they consistently do without fouling (or getting caught at least), but they do, it’s impressive, and you have to be ready to respond to that. On this night, Carolina not only responded, but showed their own version of Virginia-defensive toughness without fouling. And because of the result, you might say that the Tar Heels out-Virginia-ed Virginia.
- On a similar note, the 1st half (and what a fun first half it was!) only had 6 fouls and 3 free throws between the two teams. There were only 20 total by the time the game was over. Marcus Paige took the first 1-and-1 free throws of the game with 7.9 seconds left as Virginia was fouling to extend the game.
- The single most important factor in Carolina’s win: Marcus Paige’s defense on Malcolm Brogdon. Paige (6-2, 175), while giving up several inches and pounds (6-5, 215), did about as good a job as you could guarding the ACC Player of the Year. While Brogdon did score 15, it took him 22 shots to get there. Any coach can live with that. Expanding to the whole backcourt, Brogdon and Perrantes shot a combined 9 of 36. I’ll take those numbers any day of the week. Yes they missed some shots they often hit, but Coach Bennett said a lot of that should be contributed to Carolina’s consistent defensive pressure.
- On the offensive side of the ball for Paige, he was 0-7 from deep, including two ill-advised early shot clock 3s. However, by and large he did an incredible job aggressively driving to the hoop (AND finishing). Love seeing him find huge ways to contribute on O and D, even when the outside shots aren’t falling.
- Getting back to defense on Brodgon, Paige wasn’t the only one who did a solid job on him. Insert Mr. Kenny Williams. He came in at the 15:11 mark of the 2nd His assignment, starting at the 14:21 mark? Guard the ACC Player of the year. When Williams went back out the 9:11 mark after playing 6 minutes, he had played 5 possessions of defense on Brodgon. During that stretch Brogdon was 0-2 with a turnover. Well done young man.
- Virginia’s shot fakes were highly effective in this game.
- What a great move and finish for Isaiah Hicks with 30 seconds left on what might have been the biggest offensive possession of the game. Miss that shot and Virginia can hold for one shot and a 3 to tie the game. Make it and you just have to hit your free throws.
- In case you were wondering just exactly how dialed in the Tar Heels are defensively right now: Virginia did not score a field goal from 9:51-1:38 of the 2nd half.
Quick hitters from last night’s 78-47 ACC Tournament semifinal victory over Notre Dame:
- The last 2 two times these teams met, the Tar Heels should have won. They didn’t. The first was last year’s ACC Championship game in which Carolina had a 9-point lead with 9:59 to go and ran out of gas down the stretch after playing 4 days in a row. The second was this year’s only regular season match-up (in South Bend) in which Carolina had as much as a 15-point lead, lead by 9 at the half, and were ahead as late as 6:36 left in the game. Last night, the Tar Heels should have won again. And they did. Handily.
- Oh, hello there, Marcus. Mr. Paige, just as in Thursday’s quarterfinal, hit his first 3 of the game. The difference is that against Notre Dame he then continued to play like Marcus Paige. He was both aggressive and decisive. He led all scorers with 16, shot 4-7 from 3, had 7 assists, 2 steals, 3 rebounds, and 0 turnovers. On the defensive end, he put a dog collar on Steve Vasturia – drawing a charge and holding him to 0 points. Most college basketball writers and commentators have been saying, “If Marcus Paige gets back to being Marcus Paige, this is a national championship team. If he doesn’t, they’re still really good, but don’t have a chance at a championship.” Here’s an example from Jeff Goodman: Tar Heels Need A Better Marcus Paige. If last night was an example of things to come, look out America.
- It’s been well chronicled that Roy constantly reminds his team of the defense it takes to win a championship (conference or national) – in particular how successful the ’05 and ’09 national championship teams were when they bought in on that end of the floor. Against Pittsburgh on Thursday, the Tar Heels were more locked in defensively. But last night against Notre Dame was another level. Carolina bigs were able to break contact on multiple occasions to get around and deflect entry passes. There were active feet, active hands, help defense. You might say the Tar Heels were flying around making plays, which is an accolade usually attributed to a defensive unit in football. Will it happen against tonight against Virginia? Is that swarming defense sustainable for 6 games across three weekends? I sure hope so.
- Here are some statistical examples of last night’s defense:
- ND didn’t SCORE in the final 6:10 of the 1st half
- ND didn’t record a FG until 14:52 of the 2nd
- Combined, that’s an 11:18 drought without a FG.
- ND shot 33.3% in the 1st half, 26.9% in the 2nd half, and 30% for the game. For the Irish, the 2nd half percentage was the lowest for a 2nd half and 2nd lowest in any half on the year. The overall percentage was the lowest in a game for the season.
- ND scored 47 points – the only time this year they didn’t hit 50.
- According to Pomeroy rankings, ND is the 10th most efficient offense in the country, EVEN AFTER this performance.
- During Notre Dame’s scoring drought, the Tar Heels had another big run. 18-0 over the course of the final 6:10 of the 1st Extended to 24-0 to start 2nd half.
- Something else about the run to end the first half: Brice Johnson & Kennedy Meeks were on the bench. Both left the court with 2 fouls and 6:30 to go in the first half (the 18-0 run started at 6:10). When that happened, I, along with probably all Tar Heel fans, was nervous. The score was 23-20. Neither player came back in in the 1st The halftime score? 41-22.
- Let’s see, how do I put this? Ah yes: Joel Berry is strong.
- To think that Carolina was this dominant on a night when Brice Johnson was saddled with foul trouble (only played 15 minutes) and “only” (by his normal standard) had 12 points and 7 rebounds is scary for the rest of the country. This also meant no double-double for Brice.
- Part of the reason UNC didn’t need a huge performance from Johnson is that Isaiah Hicks recorded his first career double-double (11 points and 15 rebounds) to go along with an assist, a steal, and two blocks in 23 minutes of action. He continues to be very efficient. A good sign of things to come next year.
- The offensive percentages were somewhat down: 43.5% FG and 63.2% FT for the game. The Tar Heels missed several bunnies right around the rim. And yet, this was a dominant performance. This exemplifies the importance of the defensive effort.
- Once again, Carolina did the work of putting the game away early so that they didn’t have to fret down the stretch. 20+ point lead for all but the first minute of the 2nd
- Tonight will be Carolina’s 5th ACC Championship game in 6 years. Of course, as we know, they haven’t won any of the previous 4. Tonight could be the night. And another great opportunity to buckle down and get a tough win against Virginia.
- Interestingly, after the wins against Pittsburgh and Notre Dame, I now hear commentators and writers using words like “attitude”, “edge”, “hard”, “pit-bull mentality”, “committed”, “chip”, and “personality” to describe this “soft” team.
Bonus: If you are a college basketball fan, today was a fun day. A classic UConn/Cincinnati 4OT game, including a deeper-than-half-court-game-tying-buzzer-beater. A game-winning half-court buzzer-beater from Buddy Hield that was no good because he didn’t get it off in time. Michigan fighting for their life and upsetting the #1 seed Indiana. The list goes on. Let’s not kid ourselves: March Madness has already started.