Heading into the NCAA Tournament, we’re taking a look at the No. 1 seeds. North Carolina fell in the ACC tourney semis to Duke, but the committee still saw enough in the Tar Heels to warrant the top line.
Coach: Roy Williams | Current record: 27-7 | NCAA Tournament record: 117-45
Best finish: Champion (2005, 2009) | Last year’s finish: Loss in championship game to Villanova
Leading scorer: Jackson (18.1 ppg) | Leading rebounder: Meeks (9.1 rpg)
National championships: 1957, 1982, 1993, 2005, 2009 | Last Final Four: 2016
Why North Carolina might win it all: A veteran team that was seconds away from last year’s national championship has not lost much since that run. Justin Jackson has been one of the 10 best players in the country this season, and it is difficult for opponents to match UNC’s pace. They routinely run off 13-2 spurts. UNC is great around the rim, has quick guards and can score efficiently from every level with multiple players. Despite the loss to Duke in the ACC semis, plenty of people will still pick the Heels to win it all.
Why North Carolina might not win it all: Lapses on defense. UNC is close to what it was a year ago defensively, but its failure to close out Duke makes one pause. Plus, they don’t have a player with the same type of poise and feel that Marcus Paige brought to last season’s team. Now, Joel Berry II has a flare for the dramatic, and he is not afraid. Nate Britt is a nifty role player. But Paige had a calm-and-collected presence missing this season.
Player to watch: Jackson. He’s had a tremendous junior season, giving NBA scouts reason to look at him as a first-round choice. Jackson shoots plenty, is a good rebounder and doesn’t get into foul trouble. He can handle the ball on the break and he’s good in traffic against top-level competition. If you told me UNC makes the Final Four and Jackson averages 23 points en route, I wouldn’t be surprised. He was cold in the ACC semifinals, but I’m thinking he finds his groove this week.
One guy soaring: Meeks. He’s averaging 12.5 points and 9 rebounds over his past six games, and Tar Heels fans know that his development over four years has been steady, if not a little unexpected. Meeks’ role has always been as a third or fourth option on this team, but few teams in the country have a guy of his ability playing that No. 4 role. He’s looked good as of late.
Notable stat: 42. North Carolina is better on the offensive glass than any team in the country, snatching 42 percent of its misses. For a team that gets up and down the floor and uses a secondary break to beat you, it’s a very tough combination to beat.
Final thought: You might think reaching the title game in consecutive years is rare. But that’s not the case. Here are the programs that have made the national championship game in consecutive seasons in the 64/68-team era:
- Butler (2010-11)
- Florida (2006-07)
- Kentucky (1996-98)
- Arkansas (1994-95)
- Michigan (1992-93)
- Duke (1990-92)
It’s not easy, but not unheard of, either. UNC is well-rounded enough to do it, and it’s got a Hall of Fame coach. It’s not an exceedingly or all-time talented Tar Heels team, but it is a group that has just enough depth, just enough length, just enough shooting, just enough guard play, just enough rebounding, just enough everything to be as good at its best as anyone in the country.