Tar Heels avoid Kansas, but Oregon will pose tough challenge
There was probably no one happier than Roy Williams to avoid facing his former team in Kansas when the Jayhawks fell in Kansas City last weekend. But when he watched Oregon, he might have gotten a nightmare or two.
It almost seems like fate that the Tar Heels would get back here, a year removed from heartbreak at the hands of Villanova and Kris Jenkins – with a buzzer-beater of their own from Luke Maye.
But just because they’re here and just because it feels like their time doesn’t mean it WILL be. Oregon will have something to say about that.
If the Tar Heels keep defending like they did last weekend, there aren’t many teams that can beat them. But Oregon, a team that ran the shot clock down multiple times only to drain contested 3-pointers IN KANSAS CITY a weekend ago, could certainly be one of them.
As always, if it is my last preview of the year, it’s been a pleasure.
NO. 1 UNC (31-7) VS. NO. 3 OREGON (33-5)<br /> Time: 8:49 p.m.<br /> TV: CBS
Look, I’ll say it. I don’t mind. Oregon plays a lot of late games. So, I didn’t watch them a lot this year. I’d blame it on having a baby, but frankly, I wasn’t staying up that late before and I concentrate most of my energy on ACC basketball anyway. But I’ve watched Oregon in this NCAA Tournament. And I know how to understand stats. Watching Oregon, though, is its own experience.
You kind of find yourself shaking your head and wondering “how?” a lot. That was the experience after the Ducks built a big lead on Kansas IN KANSAS CITY last weekend and you kept waiting for the shoe to drop when Kansas came charging back.
But every big shot that needed making – even contested three pointers as the shot clock wound down – and every big rebounding that needed collecting, the Ducks got it.
Oregon isn’t a very deep team. They played eight against Kansas, but just six saw more than 10 minutes (all six played at least 21). But the guys they have left are very good, and they’re experienced.
Only freshman Peyton Pritchard and sophomore Tyler Dorsey are underclassmen who see time – Pritchard has played over 71 percent of his team’s minutes all season and can hardly be called inexperienced now, while Dorsey has been a wrecking ball this postseason, averaging 23.6 points and shooting 26-of-45 from three in the postseason (17-of-26 in the NCAA Tournament alone, which, holy what).
In spite of being aggressive enough to lead the nation in block percentage, the Ducks are 11th in defensive free-throw rate. So they can defend without fouling. Although they don’t force a ton of turnovers and they are prone to giving up offensive rebounds, which is something that has to have the North Carolina staff salivating.
Oregon is 6-4 when it shoots less than 50 percent from two this season (also 6-4 when shooting less than 33.3 percent from three) and their losses tend to be more about what they do offensively rather than what their opponents do offensively.
North Carolina will be facing an opponent that’s just as experienced and has playmakers that have found a way all season. The Tar Heels will have to play smarter than they have at times this NCAA Tournament and they will really have to exploit their size advantage.
Oregon has had to go small a lot - which is a matchup problem in its own right for opponents, and it could be for North Carolina too - after losing shot-blocker Chris Boucher for the season. If North Carolina can make it a mismatch on the other end like no other opponent has quite been able to do so far this postseason, the Tar Heels should win. But YOU try counting the Ducks out. I’m not going to.
Kennedy Meeks. This game could turn around Meeks’ play. Meaning that if he’s the rebounding machine he was against Kentucky who can be as dominant defensively as he was in that game, the Tar Heels’ size advantage will prove to be too much for the Ducks. If he gets in foul trouble or can’t guard a smaller and athletic Oregon team, North Carolina could be in trouble. But either way, the senior big man is arguably THE reason North Carolina is even in Phoenix right now. Yes, Luke Maye hit the shot. But Meeks had a career-high 17 rebounds and blocked four shots, not to mention just being a defensive presence in general, harassing Kentucky’s Bam Adebayo into a below-par performance. Meeks had just seven points, but that wasn’t what North Carolina needed from him. It needed what he gave them. Conditioning was supposedly an issue for Meeks in the ACC Tournament loss to Duke, with Roy Williams citing a knee issue as the reason he only saw 27 minutes of action. Well, he saw 32 against Kentucky, his most since January 16 - and that was even with Sunday’s game being with just a day of rest. Carolina’s going to need Meeks to be that steady senior who can get the rebounds and do the right things defensively.
HERE’S A GUY
Jordan Bell. Speaking of one-man wrecking crews, boy, did Bell put on a show against Kansas. He literally got all of his team’s offensive rebounds, save ones that went out of bounds to Oregon. In fact, of the 36 TOTAL rebounds that actual Oregon players collected, Bell got 13 of them. There’s nothing quite like watching a guy dominate like he did on the boards, but then he was also swatting away shot after shot, totaling eight blocks. All of Oregon’s blocks were Bell’s. Missing Boucher has hurt and will continue to hurt Oregon. But Bell has done all he can to make up for it, averaging 13.2 points and (more importantly) 12 rebounds since Boucher went out. They’ve played five games without him now. Not like Bell wasn’t a beast before - he has only been under 10 rebounds once in the month of March, and he’s an excellent shot-blocker in his own right. And he does it all while avoiding foul trouble, which is an even more scary proposition for UNC’s bigs; he’s picked up more than a foul just once in the last 12 games. Containing him is going to be both a chore and key to this one for UNC.
When you’re playing a team with a duck mascot, you’re going all duck GIFs. ALL OF THEM.
North Carolina Win:
North Carolina Loss:
PREDICTION<br /> North Carolina, 82-74. I just think not having Boucher is finally going to hurt Oregon a bit too much against the Tar Heels.
Overall: 129-59 (96-44 ACC)<br /> Last week: 2-0<br /> Postseason: 25-11