The Providence Friars escaped a tough battle with the USC Trojans Thursday night in Raleigh. Saturday night, the task toughens even more as they'll face the highly touted North Carolina Tar Heels, who'll be playing in their own backyard, basically.
Here are three things to watch for in what should be a stupendous game:
1. Guard play
Do you want to watch good guards play in NCAA Tournament games? Providence-North Carolina will certainly have a few. The tandem of Joel Berry and one-time All-ACC guard Marcus Paige have been effective for the Tar Heels this season, even with Paige undertaking somewhat of a new role as the 2 guard for UNC after playing point last year. Berry, meanwhile, has been sold in the role as point guard this year for the Heels. The sophomore from Apopka, Florida does all the right things - keeps control of the ball, picks pockets, dishes out assists - and has been on a tear of late. In his last nine games, Berry's averaged 14.7 points per game, doing so against some of the stiffest defenses around including 40 combined points in two matchups against Virginia.
We here at Big East Coast Bias don't have to tell you Providence fans about the guards the Friars have. But for the uninitiated, Providence possesses Kris Dunn, Junior Lomomba and Kyron Cartwright. After going two seasons without seeing the floor, Lomomba has been a solid role player for the Friars. He might not be a great scorer by any means, but he's been a good enough complementary piece for this year's version of the Friars. Cartwright, meanwhile, has been very good at times coming off the bench. He's been a little inconsistent in the scoring department but when he's on, he's a threat from virtually anywhere on the court. He's coming off a 10 point, 6 assist performance against the Trojans and prior to that, he dropped 14 points in the Friars' semifinal loss to Villanova.
Kris Dunn... well, what's there to say that hasn't already been said? Dunn is a do-it-all guard who is a defensive force. He has a limitless range from an offensive perspective and is as athletic as they come. He's a future lottery pick later this summer, so you'll want to enjoy him while you can while he's wearing the Providence uniform.
2. Matchup issue down low
When you take a look at the rosters of Providence and North Carolina, one thing that might stick out to you is a strong difference in height.
The Tar Heels have a distinct height advantage, especially so in the front court. Brice Johnson, Isaiah Hicks, Kennedy Meeks and Joel James are all 6-foot-9 or taller, and Johnson and Meeks are two players that will likely be on the floor a lot. The Friars, meanwhile, have just one player at 6-foot-9 or taller in the form of Ben Bentil. Bentil's a great player, no doubt, but to say that it might be a mismatch down low could be an understatement.
Brice Johnson has proven to be a rebounding machine this season with multiple 20+ rebound performances coming this season. Meeks, meanwhile, has also been a stellar rebounder, helping North Carolina to becoming one of the top rebounding teams in the country, especially on the offensive end. The Friars haven't had such luck and merely stand as a team with average marks in most rebounding categories.
It might be wise for the Friars to attack the big bodies of Johnson, Hicks, Meeks and James whenever they're on the floor. Otherwise, they could be in for a long night down low.
3. Along the perimeter
Providence has struggled all year long with 3-point shooting. The good news for them is that so has North Carolina. Both the Friars and Tar Heels come into this game with 3-point field goal percentages of 32.3 percent or worse, as the Friars have that 32.3 percent mark, while the Tar Heels have a mark of an even lower 31.5 percent. They both find themselves in the latter portion of the the realm of college basketball in that department.
What will be interesting is what happens on the defensive side of the ball. The Friars are very well adept at defending the 3-point shot. But, they have had some despair in that department of late. USC dropped a 46.2 percent mark from the 3-point line on Thursday night, adding another a list of recent slip-ups.
North Carolina doesn't quite that have benefit of a gaudy defensive mark from the perimeter, however, coming into the game with a mark of 35.7 percent allowed from the 3-point line. With that said, UNC has toughened up a bit of late. In their last 10 games, the Tar Heels have allowed opponents to convert just 32.2 percent of their attempts from the 3-point line. This includes a few performances where the Tar Heels allowed less than or equal 33.3 percent from that area of the floor; six to be precise.
So it might be fair to say that both these teams are going in opposite directions on defense. Where the tide will turn along the perimeter is left to be seen.