NCAA tournament team previews: North Carolina Tar Heels
As part of its preview of the 2015 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: 24-11 (11-7 in ACC)
Adjusted offensive/defensive efficiency: 115.3 (12th)/95.0 (45th)
Seed: No. 4 in West
Impact player: Marcus Paige, junior, guard: 13.9 ppg, 4.6 apg, 86.0 FT%, 118.5 O-rating
The Case For: After underachieving for much of the season, the Tar Heels are playing their best basketball at exactly the right time—and getting healthy too. Paige is moving freely after suffering through a bout of plantar fasciitis and finally starting to resemble the All-America performer he was last season. In his last five games, he's averaging 18.2 points per game, compared to fewer than 14 per game before that, and shooting 42.5% from three-point range. North Carolina has been searching for a reliable alpha dog on offense all season and if Paige can consistenly provide that option, it will open up the floor for his teammates.
The Heels are one of the nation's best rebounding teams, ranking second in rebounds per game, seventh in rebounding margin and sixth in offensive rebounding rate by grabbing almost 40% of their missed shots. If sophomore forward Kennedy Meeks is healthy after battling a mysterious illness for much of the season's second half, he can team with the athletic tandem of Brice Johnson and high-flying wing J.P. Tokoto to control the backboards and fuel Carolina's up-tempo offense that is dangerous as ever in the open court and ranks 10th in tempo.
Defensively, this is one of Roy Williams' best teams in his 12 seasons in Chapel Hill. The Tar Heels limit opponents to under 40% from the field and rank eighth nationally by holding foes to 29.8% from three-point range.
The Case Against: North Carolina is still vulnerable against a hot-shooting team from deep—Notre Dame hit 10-of-20 in the ACC title game and Duke made 10-of-16 in its classic 92-90 overtime win over UNC in February—primarily because it has struggled for much of the season from the perimeter itself. The Tar Heels rank 350th in the nation in percentage of shots from beyond the arc, and while they've made 40% in their past nine games, Paige remains their only true marksman. If he's misfiring, North Carolina is much easier to guard.
Williams has told his team that he thinks they're good enough to go to the Final Four, but to do so Carolina would have to cut down on late game turnovers that plagued it down the stretch in most of its losses this season and also beat the kind of high-level competition that it has struggled against all year. The Tar Heels went a combined 1-5 against their fellow top-25 ACC teams during the regular season, though they did beat Louisville and Virginia in the ACC tournament. And their non-conference performance would seem to argue against a deep run. They beat Davidson (a 10-seed), Ohio State (10), UCLA (11) and Florida (missed the NCAAs) but lost to Butler (a 6-seed) on a neutral court, Iowa (a 7-seed) at home and Kentucky (a 1-seed) on the road.