GAME NOTES: One of the most storied teams in NCAA Tournament history will be in action on Friday night, as the sixth-seeded North Carolina Tar Heels face the 11th-seeded Providence Friars in the second round of the East Region.
Just about every year, North Carolina can be penciled into the field of 68, as it is second in the event's history in total wins (109) and games played (151). The Tar Heels are making their 10th appearance in 11 years under head coach Roy Williams, who guided them to a 23-9 overall record and an at-large bid this time around. The key stretch of the campaign came late, as the Tar Heels won 12 straight games from the end of January to the beginning of March.
Providence has not been as consistent, especially of late, as the Friars are 10 years removed from their last trip to the Big Dance when they fell to 12th- seeded Pacific, 66-58, in the first round. They were certainly not a sure thing to make the field this season, but they rattled off three wins in as many days to claim the Big East Conference Tournament title and earn an automatic bid.
The Tar Heels lead the all-time series with the Friars by a 2-1 count, although the teams have not met since 1979 when UNC defended its home floor with an 89-58 rout. Whichever teams comes out on top here will advance to face either Iowa State or NC Central in the third round on Sunday.
Bryce Cotton went off for 18 points as Providence upset Creighton, 65-58, in the Big East title tilt last Saturday. The Friars only connected on 38.8 percent of their shots from the field, but they outscored the Bluejays at the free-throw line, 23-8.
In the Big Easy, only Creighton's Doug McDermott is scoring at a higher rate than Cotton this season. The 6-foot-1 senior has been a potent scorer his entire career, and is netting a career-high 21.4 ppg this year. He is also able to create shots for his teammates as well, handing out 5.8 apg. Cotton's main source of support is the frontcourt, where a trio of talented forwards carve out space. LaDontae Henton (13.9 ppg, 7.8 rpg) is the second option in terms of scoring, providing a threat who can spread the floor. Kadeem Batts (12.4 ppg, 7.6 rpg) and Josh Fortune (11.5 ppg, 5.2 rpg) are also solid on the interior.
North Carolina is carrying a two-game losing streak into this event, after falling to Duke (93-81) in the regular-season finale and to Pittsburgh (80-75) in the ACC Tournament. The Tar Heels let the Panthers shoot 51.9 percent from the floor, while being outrebounded by a 43-35 margin.
It is rare that North Carolina loses the battle on the boards, as the Tar Heels rank eighth in the country in rebounding (39.8 rpg). They are also producing well on offense, netting 76.3 ppg on 46.3 percent shooting, while ranking 20th nationally in assists (15.6 apg). Marcus Paige (17.4 ppg, 4.3 apg) is a solid scoring guard who runs the point for the Tar Heels. James Michael McAdoo (14.2 ppg, 6.7 rpg) is the team's best player on the inside, although Brice Johnson (10.4 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 1.2 bpg) is also a skilled big man. Leslie McDonald (10.3 ppg) is only shooting at a 38.5 percent clip, but he can be dangerous when he gets into a rhythm.
North Carolina rebounds well and won't be intimidated by the Friars' strong frontcourt. Paige will also provide a nice counterbalance to Cotton. Expect a close game, but give the Tar Heels the edge.
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