UNC vs. Oregon
When: 8:49 p.m. Saturday TV: CBS
UNC Tar Heels
Seed: No. 1 South
Coach: Roy Williams (74-24 in NCAA tournament)
How they got here: beat No. 16 Texas Southern, 103-64; beat No. 8 Arkansas, 72-65; beat No. 4 Butler, 92-80; beat No. 2 Kentucky, 75-73
Top players: G Justin Jackson (18.2 ppg, 4.7 rpg), G Joel Berry (14.6 ppg, 3.6 apg), F Kennedy Meeks (12.3 ppg, 9.3 rpg)
Strength: The Tar Heels lead the country in offensive rebounds (15.7 per game) and rebounding margin (plus-13). Senior forward Kennedy Meeks had 17 rebounds in UNC’s 75-73 win over Kentucky in the regional final, and the Heels had a 44-34 advantage on the boards. UNC doesn’t play many close games – only five games decided by three points or less – but when you create that many extra opportunities, and limit your opponents’, it gives you a distinct edge.
Weakness: Roy Williams has a classically-built inside-out team. There are fewer and fewer teams, in both college and the pros, who play this way because good bigs are hard to find. Size can work both ways, though. Duke, in taking two of three games from UNC this season, was able to spread UNC’s bigs out and exploit mismatches on the defensive end. UNC has to make teams play the way it wants, not the other way around.
Rising in Phoenix: Only three programs have won the national title the year after losing in the title game. The first two – UNC in 1982 (Michael Jordan) and Duke in 1991 (Grant Hill) – did so by adding an incredible freshman talent. The Heels don’t have that but their motivation from last year’s knife-twisting loss to Villanova in the title game has been palpable all season.
Four other teams have returned to the title game the next year and lost again (Butler is the most recent in 2011). The Heels’ top players, Meeks and Justin Jackson in particular, just don’t seem like they will let that happen.
Tournament ashes: Of all the teams in the NCAA field, Oregon is closest in style to Duke. The Ducks actually are more athletic than Duke and will spread UNC out and force the Heels’ bigs to guard off the dribble. If Jackson, who was superb defensively on Kentucky’s Malik Monk, gets into any kind of foul trouble trying to contain Oregon’s Tyler Dorsey, UNC’s redemption song will end on a sour note.
Seed: No. 3 Midwest
Coach: Dana Altman (13-12 in NCAA tournament)
How they got here: beat No. 14 Iona, 93-77; beat No. 11 Rhode Island, 75-72; beat No. 7 Michigan, 69-68; beat No. 1 Kansas, 74-60
Top players: G Tyler Dorsey (14.5 ppg, 3.4 rpg), F Jordan Bell (10.9 ppg, 8.6 rpg), G Dillon Brooks (16.3 ppg, 3.1 rpg)
Strength: The Ducks have the Golden State Warriors concept of “position-less” basketball down pat. Tyler Dorsey, Dillon Brooks and Jordan Bell don’t fit classic position molds but they are quick and hyper-athletic. Dorsey, in particular, has been spectacular in the NCAA tournament. The 6-4 sophomore has averaged 24.5 points per game in the NCAAs, a jump up from 11.6 in Pac-12 play.
Weakness: Since a knee injury in the Pac-12 tournament sidelined forward Chris Boucher, the conference’s top shot-blocker, the Ducks have been thin on depth and size. The starters scored all but five points in the 74-60 win over Kansas in the regional final. Dana Altman has gone to what amounts to a six-man rotation, with only junior guard Casey Benson getting significant minutes off the bench.
Rising in Phoenix: The Quack Attack is trying to steal a couple of pages from Duke’s book here. First, they’ll try to copy Duke’s spread-’em-out-and-go formula from this season to knock off UNC. The Ducks will switch on just about every defensive screen, too, like Mike Krzyzewski’s vintage teams.
Also, Oregon will try to one-up Duke’s 2001 title team. The Devils lost big man Carlos Boozer late in February with a foot injury but got him back for the last four games of the NCAA tournament and won the national championship. Oregon lost Boucher in the semifinals of the Pac-12 tournament but won’t be getting him back in time to help against UNC’s incredible frontcourt.
Tournament ashes: If Oregon doesn’t get UNC to play the Ducks’ game, the Tar Heels’ size and rebounding advantage will be too much. Arizona, with its size, is the closest team to UNC that Oregon has faced this season. The Ducks’ last loss? The Pac-12 title game, 83-80 to Arizona.