(1) North Carolina vs. (16) Lamar/Vermont Preview
Senior NBA Writer & College Basketball Editor
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(1) North Carolina Tar Heels
The core from last year’s run to the Elite Eight is back and this year the Tar Heels will settle for nothing less than being the last team standing. There’s a certain sense of urgency to make the most of this year as odds are next year’s roster will look far different. Harrison Barnes, John Henson and Tyler Zeller combine to form one of the best frontlines in the country. They are instrumental in the Tar Heels’ nation-leading 11.4 rebounding margin. Point guard Kendall Marshall makes everything work. He dishes out 9.7 assists a game, which is second-best in the country. His playmaking skills are a big reason for the Tar Heels’ offensive efficiency. They average 81 points a night on 46 percent shooting from the field. They’re aggressive in pushing the tempo. They’re not much of a three point shooting team, making just five per contest. They’re also prone to periodic struggles at the charity stripe, where they shoot just 66 percent as a team. Size is a necessity to beat the Tar Heels as they’ll be able to overwhelm most teams in the paint and on the boards. They can survive early without Henson, who is nursing a right wrist injury, but he has to be healthy for them to go all the way.
(16) Lamar Cardinals
Just over two weeks ago, Cardinals head coach Pat Knight ripped into his team so badly that his rant gained national recognition. Now, he’s going to the NCAA tournament as a head coach for the first time thanks to his senior-laden team responding to his callout with a six-game winning streak. Winners of the Southland Conference tournament, the Cardinals are back in the big dance for the first time since 2000. They’ve won five tournament games in school history, all of those coming prior to 1984. Knight plays almost exclusively upperclassmen. His entire starting lineup is made up of seniors. Guards Mike James and Anthony Miles are relied on heavily to lead them in scoring and create for others. As a team, the Cardinals score 74 points a night and give up 65. They lack shooters, evident by their four threes made a game. They took on Kentucky, Ohio State and Louisville during the regular season, losing by 20 points on average. They were 0-5 total against the RPI Top 100.
(16) Vermont Catamounts
The last two times we’ve seen the Catamounts, who are representing the American East Conference after winning their postseason tournament, in the NCAA Tournament they were matched up against Syracuse. In 2005, they shockingly upset Syracuse and are hoping to make history again this year. They’re a well-balanced team with three different guys in Matt Glass, Flour McGlynn and Luke Apfeld who can lead them offensively on any given night. They score 67 points as a team while only allowing 61. Most of their wins have been a product of their defense, which holds teams to 41 percent shooting from the floor and 32 percent from distance. They are not much of a three-point shooting team, making just five a night. They were winless in five tries against the RPI Top 100 and dropped six games to teams outside of it. Winning their second tournament game in school history will require their best effort of the season.
HOOPSWORLD’s pick: North Carolina. Lamar is clicking right now and should be able to knock off Vermont, but they’ll pose no kind of threat to the Tar Heels.
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