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UNC and the East Region: Breaking down the top half of the bracket

Andrew Carter on North Carolina in the NCAA Tournament

Video: The News & Observer’s Andrew Carter offers a preview of the Tar Heels’ NCAA Tournament game against Florida Gulf Coast at the PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C.
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Video: The News & Observer’s Andrew Carter offers a preview of the Tar Heels’ NCAA Tournament game against Florida Gulf Coast at the PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C.

North Carolina, the No. 1 seed in the East Region, will play either Florida Gulf Coast or Fairleigh Dickinson on Thursday in the first round of the NCAA tournament. We went over both of those No. 16 seeds Monday.

Now it’s time to expand the focus a bit. Here’s a quick look at the opponents UNC could play in the second and third rounds, with an overall threat level – on a scale of one Darvin Ham to five Darvin Hams – included. Ham, you’ll remember, broke the backboard against UNC during Texas Tech’s NCAA tournament victory 20 years ago.

Possible second round opponents

No. 8 USC

Record: 21-12 (9-9 Pac-12)

How they got in: At-large

RPI: 51

Kenpom: 49

They’re good at: Shooting from the outside. The Trojans have made 38.5 percent of their 3s, which ranks 28th nationally and 12th among NCAA tournament teams.

They’re not good at: Forcing turnovers and defensive rebounding. The Trojans rank below 250th nationally in both of those categories, and they’re 275th in defensive rebounding. Defensively, only five major-conference teams in the field rank lower in efficiency.

Overall threat level: 2 Darvin Hams

Rationale: While the Trojans are more than capable offensively, they’re below average defensively (for an NCAA tournament team) and they like to run. USC would have little hope of slowing down UNC’s offense, and the Tar Heels are the superior defensive team.

No. 9 Providence

Record: 23-10 (10-8 Big East)

How they got in: At-large

RPI: 38

Kenpom: 46

They’re good at: Defense. Usually, at least. Providence ranks 27th nationally in defensive efficiency – and 21st among NCAA tournament teams.

They’re not good at: Shooting. Providence is the third-worst 3-point shooting team in the tournament field (UNC is the second-worst) but the Friars have made only 48.1 percent of their 2-point attempts, too, which ranks 202nd nationally.

Overall threat level: 3 Darvin Hams

Rationale: UNC is clearly the superior offensive team, but Providence’s defense could allow it to remain competitive and give the Friars a chance. Providence junior guard Kris Dunn (16 ppg, 6.4 apg) is also among the best perimeter players UNC would have faced this season if this matchup happens.

Possible regional semifinal opponents

No. 4. Kentucky

Record: 26-8 (13-5 SEC)

How they got in: Won SEC tournament

RPI: 12

Kenpom: 7

They’re good at: A lot of things. Kentucky enters the tournament as the most efficient offensive team in the nation, according to kenpom.com.

They’re not good at: Limiting second-chance opportunities. Kentucky is the eighth-worst defensive rebounding team in the field.

Overall threat level: 5 Darvin Hams

Rationale: Kentucky, like UNC, seems to be peaking at the right time, and the Wildcats don’t lack for talent, especially in the backcourt with sophomore point guard Tyler Ulis and freshman Jamal Murray. Kentucky has the talent to hang with UNC, and the offensive firepower – and it’s Kentucky. A UNC-Kentucky game in the Sweet 16 wouldn’t lack for intensity.

No. 5 Indiana

Record: 25-7 (15-3 Big Ten)

How they got in: At-large

RPI: 24

Kenpom: 14

They’re good at: Shooting – especially from the outside. The Hoosiers have made 41.5 percent of their 3-point attempts, which ranks fourth among tournament teams. Indiana is also good inside the 3-point line and has made 56.1 percent of its two-point attempts, which ranks seventh nationally.

They’re not good at: Indiana hasn’t been a great defensive team and is an average defensive team by NCAA tournament standards. The Hoosiers rank 66th nationally in defensive efficiency.

Overall threat level: 4 Darvin Hams

Rationale: Indiana isn’t quite as good as Kentucky, but the Hoosiers are still plenty of capable of pushing UNC and beating UNC, especially if the outside shots are falling – and they usually are.

No. 12 Chattanooga

Record: 29-5 (15-3 Southern)

How they got in: Won Southern Conference tournament

RPI: 50

Kenpom: 107

They’re good at: Chattanooga’s numbers don’t overwhelm anywhere, but they’ve been an above-average defensive team (but only average compared with those in the tournament field). If anything stands out, it’s that the Mocs have won their share of close games. They’ve won five straight – all by six points or less.

They’re not good at: Blocking shots. Only Colorado enters the tournament having blocked shots at a lesser rate than Chattanooga.

Overall threat level: 2 Darvin Hams

Rationale: If the Mocs make it to the Sweet 16, they’d have some serious mojo going – having defeated Indiana and then, likely, Kentucky. At that point, a team becomes more formidable than its season-long numbers suggest.

No. 13 Stony Brook

Record: 26-6 (14-2 America East)

How they got in: Won America East tournament

RPI: 60

Kenpom: 91

They’re good at: Rebounding. The Seawolves – excellent name, by the way – rank 44th nationally in offensive rebounding percentage and 28th in defensive rebounding percentage. They create second-chance opportunities and limit them for the opposition.

They’re not good at: Stony Brook leaves something to be desired offensively, ranking 131st nationally in offensive efficiency. Only 15 teams rank lower.

Overall threat level: 2 Darvin Hams

Rationale: Same thing here as above for Chattanooga – if the Seawolves wind up making the Sweet 16, they’ll be on quite the Cinderella run, one that renders less important its past stats and accomplishments. Even so, UNC would likely rather see Stony Brook in the Sweet 16 than, say, Kentucky.

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