Are you having trouble filling out your NCAA Tournament bracket? Don’t know how far to advance North Carolina in the East Region, and wondering which teams could take out the top-seeded Tar Heels? Well, you’re in luck. We’re breaking down the bracket, team-by-team, to give you all of the possible upsets and iterations, so you’re confident heading into your bracket pool.
You’ll probably still lose, but hey, at least you’ll be informed.
Check out our index for more insight on matchups.
North Carolina (26-6, 14-4/ACC)
As usual, the Tar Heels are among the nation’s most talented teams, and they backed up an outright ACC regular season title by winning the league tournament in Washington D.C. This team isn’t invincible–it lost an early-season game to Northern Iowa, and suffered defeats at Texas, Louisville and Notre Dame, as well as to Duke and Virginia.
But UNC is deep and balanced, with All-American candidate Brice Johnson leading the way. The 6-9 senior forward had a breakout season, averaging a double-double (16.6 ppg, 10.6 rpg). He had some games where he looked completely unstoppable–like against Florida State on January 4, when he put up an absurd 39 points and 23 rebounds. That’s just insane.
He also hung 29 and 19 on Duke in Carolina’s heartbreaking one-point loss to the Devils in February, then scored 18 and grabbed 21 rebounds in a revenge win at Cameron a few weeks later. So, if anybody is going to beat North Carolina, their first priority will be stopping Brice.
It’s not just Johnson who scares opponents, though. Senior point guard Marcus Paige (12.1 ppg, 3.7 apg) is smart and crafty, and has plenty of NCAA Tournament experience. He leads Carolina’s run-and-gun offense, which averages 82.3 points per game, 12th in the country. This team likes to share the ball as well, ranking fourth nationally in assists per game at 18.1. They can go get it on the boards, too, racking up 41 rebounds per, 14th-best nationally.
Who can beat North Carolina?
Providence. We can’t see USC taking down North Carolina, because both teams play similar styles and the Trojans don’t have as much talent as the Heels. But the Friars might have the best player on the floor in this matchup in Big East Player of the Year Kris Dunn, who averages 16 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists per game and could be a top-five pick in the NBA Draft.
If he and forward Ben Bentil (21.2 points, 7.8 boards per) have games of a lifetime, the Friars could pull a classic upset in Round 2. The only problem for Providence is that after their top two, performance dips considerably, and the Heels will have a big edge there.
Kentucky. This would be one heck of a Sweet 16 matchup, and we’re actually picking the Wildcats to win this game and move on to the Final Four. Think of this Kentucky team like the 2014 one that entered the NCAA’s seeded eighth and then went on a spectacular run to the national championship game, losing to Connecticut in the final. This group has arguably as much talent as that squad, which was led by Julius Randle and the Harrison twins.
Jamal Murray is an NBA star-in-the making, Tyler Ulis is one of the nation’s best point guards, and the Wildcats have a ridiculous amount of size inside, which could bother the Tar Heels. Kentucky also beat Carolina in 2011 on its way to the Final Four.
West Virginia. The Mountaineers probably don’t have enough to beat UNC, but if these two teams do play, it will be in the Elite Eight, and Carolina will have just one day to prepare for Bob Huggins’ “Press Virginia” style. Still, the Heels love to run and gun, so that matchup plays right into their hands.
Wisconsin. We don’t think this one’s happening either, but the Badgers are one of the nation’s hottest teams entering the NCAA’s and have plenty of tournament experience, having advanced to the national title game last year. If Wisconsin can slow the game down and make Carolina uncomfortable, it can cause some problems for the Heels. This matchup would take place in the Elite Eight.
Xavier Analysts have raved about Xavier all season long, but honestly, we think this team is a little bit overrated. Sure, it has four players who average in double figures and its numbers look good on paper (18th in ppg, 27th in assists, 13th in rebounds, 153rd in points allowed), but the Musketeers don’t really have a transcendent, go-to-player that you need to get to a Final Four. We’re taking Wisconsin to knock them out in the second round.