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It's not often that you'll see the Big East tournament winner getting an 11-seed, but that's what happened with Providence. Riding the bubble before the conference tournament, they won three straight games en route to the title. North Carolina was a little more disappointing, losing its first game of the ACC tourney game. Now coming off two straight losses, the Tar Heels are -4 point favorites in their second round game.
UNC has been a team of mystery for most of the season. They have great non-conference wins over Louisville, Michigan State and Kentucky, but also lost to UAB. The same goes for ACC play when they started with three straight losses, two against Wake Forest and Miami (FL). And then came their 12-game winning streak, beating the likes of Duke and NC State twice.
Providence is in the same mold, yet don't have the great wins on their resume. Losses to Maryland and Kentucky filled their non-conference schedule without many wins against top teams. The Friars can be great as seen in their two wins against Creighton, but home losses to Seton Hall and St. John's are questionable.
The matchup to watch in this game will be at the guard spot between Marcus Paige (17.4 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 4.3 APG) and Bryce Cotton (21.4 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 5.8 APG). Whereas Paige doesn't need a big game for UNC to do well, Providence is done for if Cotton can't get it going. Paige scored 16 points in UNC's last two wins, but had 51 in their last two losses. Even if Cotton has a bad shooting day, he'll find ways to score, most likely from the free-throw line. Paige is a tad better shooter, but Cotton is a little more important for the team.
The Tar Heels have a bunch of athletic guys that crash the glass, none more vital than James Michael McAdoo. He'll have plenty of work to do against the likes of Kadeem Batts and Tyler Harris. The best route for the Friars will be to attack the rim and draw fouls with Cotton and second-leading scorer LaDontae Henton. Getting someone like McAdoo in foul trouble would be huge.
Of course, if UNC draws a ton of fouls, Providence will be in more trouble as they only really use six players every game. The Tar Heels love to run, which could be trouble for the depth-deprived Friars.
North Carolina has plenty of players at their disposal with Brice Johnson becoming a force over the past month. However, outside of Paige, the only other player that can hit a three is Leslie McDonald, and that can lead to problems. Other big men like J.P. Tokoto and Kennedy Meeks will be huge on the glass as Providence is not a good shooting team, so those two will need to limit the Friars' offensive boards.
UNC's depth and rebounding could be the deciding factors in this game, especially if the senior Cotton isn't hitting shots. Even though the Tar Heels have been erratic this season, they have less to worry about in this matchup. But if Cotton goes off, anything can happen.
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