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NCAA tournament team previews: North Carolina Tar Heels

Marcus Paige, North Carolina Tar HeelsMarcus Paige has been head-and-shoulders above much of the competition during a stellar sophomore season. (Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

As part of its preview of the 2014 NCAA men’s basketball tournament, SI.com is taking a look at all 68 teams in the field. RPI and SOS data from realtimerpi.com. Adjusted offense and defense are from kenpom.com and measure the number of points scored and allowed per 100 possessions, and the team’s national rank. For more teams, click here.

Record: 23-9, 13-6 in ACC

RPI: 26/18

Adjusted offense / adjusted defense: 111.2 (52nd) / 94.4 (19th)

Seed: No. 6 in East

Impact player: Marcus Paige, sophomore guard: 17.4 ppg, 4.3 apg, .391 3-pt FG pct., .880 FT pct.

The Case For:

Louisville, Michigan State, Kentucky and Duke found out just how good the Tar Heels can be when they are playing at their best. North Carolina beat each of those blueblood programs this season, not bad considering it has had to play the entire season without its best player, shooting guard P.J. Hairston, whose eligibility issues cost him the rest of his North Carolina career. Without Hairston, Marcus Paige emerged as an All-America candidate as a sophomore, more than doubling his scoring average from his freshman campaign.

While this is not a vintage high-octane Roy Williams-coached team, Carolina still played the 18th-fastest tempo in the country and averaged 76.3 points per game. Instead, the Tar Heels owe much of their success to less glamorous traits like defense, offensive rebounding and passing. Carolina ranks 18th in the country in offensive rebounding percentage, 22nd in defensive efficiency and 23rd nationally in assists per game. They wild card for North Carolina will be what kind of production it gets out of James Michael McAdoo (14.2 ppg) and Brice Johnson (10.3) up front. Both big men have shown the ability to score in bunches this season but neither has been consistent enough to be counted on every game.

The Case Against:

Belmont, UAB, Wake Forest and Miami found out just how beatable the Tar Heels can be when they are not playing their best. North Carolina lost to each of those teams this season, curious losses that made them the most inconsistent and tough to figure out team in the country. If the UNC team from those games shows up in San Antonio, the Heels will be heading home early.

At least two of Carolina's losses were directly attributable to abysmal free throw shooting. The Tar Heels missed 26 free throws in a three-point loss to Belmont and 23 in a three-point loss to Texas, both at home. For the season, Carolina shoots just 62.5 percent from the line, eighth-worst in the country. Remove Paige's ACC-best 88.0 percent, and the rest of the Heels shoot just 57.6 percent. Paige is also the team's only consistent threat from 3-point range, making 39 percent. Carolina desperately needs fifth-year senior Leslie McDonald to help out, but he has made just 30 percent from deep this year. No other player has made even 10 threes this season for the Tar Heels.

SI prediction: Beat Providence in second round, lose to Iowa State in third round

View complete bracket predictions from SI.com's panel of experts

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