After being handed a No. 8 seed in the NCAA tournament, North Carolina won't be facing the usual cupcake in the first round. This year, the players will be tossed into the fire pit early, facing a No. 9-seed Villanova team that has thrived on pulling the upset.
That's how a 20-13 team gets its ticket punched to the Big Dance.
The Wildcats pulled off victories against No. 2 (AP Top 25) Louisville, No. 8 Georgetown, No. 15 Marquette and No. 16 Syracuse, earning the moniker of Giant Killer. Fortunately for UNC, all of those games took place in Philly.
Nine of 'Nova's 13 losses came outside of its home city.
Home or not, the big win is something the Tar Heels are lacking on their resume. They haven't beaten a single team in the current Top 25. They beat UNLV when it was ranked No. 20 in the nation, but the Rebels are no longer a part of that list.
One thing about North Carolina, though, is it beats the teams its supposed to, and most experts are saying it should get through 'Nova.
I've put together five keys to the game to make sure that happens.
It's no secret that Roy Williams likes to keep timeouts in his pocket.
But this is the NCAA tournament, and his team is riddled with youth. That means he needs to gather his troops more often and set their minds straight when they begin to falter.
While James Michael McAdoo, Reggie Bullock and P.J. Hairston have been stars for this squad, each one is prone to reverting to bad habits, seemingly triggered by struggles on the offensive end.
McAdoo usually starts out the game pretty solid. He'll take his time working the defense to find the best possible shot. Then something triggers his afterburners, and he starts working in warp speed.
When he gets like that, he'll force up a shot no matter the situation.
The same can be said of Bullock and Hairston with the three ball. When the offense struggles to score in the half court, they try to make up for it with treys.
Or it could be them avoiding a hyper McAdoo.
It's hard to say.
But no matter the reason, this is a problem that has plagued this team in every game. They just get away with it against the lesser teams.
Roy needs to pull these players off the court when they get like this, before they dig a hole the team can't get out of. He'll occasionally do this with McAdoo, but he tends to wait too long.
Anyone that watches this team knows when McAdoo gets into that mode, it doesn't stop until he sits on the bench and collects himself. It would be wise to do the same with Hairston and Bullock, unless McAdoo is indeed their trigger point.
All season I have harped on this team's poor shot selection—and that usually revolves around the three ball. By no means am I saying the Tar Heels should cut back on threes, especially against a team like Villanova that struggles to defend the perimeter.
But picking the right moment is key.
It's no secret that the Wildcats' greatest weakness is on the perimeter on both sides of the court. Opponents are shooting a whopping 36.8 percent behind the arc against them. To make matters worse, 'Nova only sinks 33.6 percent of its attempts.
Carolina, on the other hand, is burying 38.9 percent from downtown with the four-guard lineup.
That doesn't bode well for the 'Cats.
However, the Tar Heels will need to be selective to maximize efficiency. They are a matchup nightmare for Villanova, but leaning too much on the three could play right into its hands.
North Carolina simply needs to limit their threes to the open ones. And if the offense is in a slump, the guards shouldn't be trying to just shoot their way out of it.
Just take what the defense gives you. There is a reason this line is preached by coaches across all sports.
Like 'Nova with the three ball, I'm not raising any eyebrows when I tell you North Carolina struggles with free throws. It has been a problem all season long.
But the Tar Heels are getting better—at least with their shooting percentage.
UNC has converted 72.1 percent of its free throws over the last 11 games. For most of the season, the team was in the low 60s.
A lot of that had to do with McAdoo getting the bulk of the reps at the charity stripe. He is only shooting 57.3 percent on the season. Now the guards are getting in the paint and have taken the weight off his shoulders.
But they still aren't getting to the line enough. The Tar Heels are attempting 17.9 per game over that span.
If there was any game to boost those numbers, then it's this one.
Villanova is the best in the country at getting to the line, averaging 26.3 attempts per game, but it is also one of the worst in keeping teams off the line. 'Nova opponents are averaging 21.7 free throws per game.
The Tar Heels should be taking it to the hole every change they get. The Wildcats aren't very deep, and getting them in foul trouble would really favor the 'Heels.
McAdoo also needs to be careful not to get in foul trouble on the other end. He fouled out against Florida State and had four and three fouls over the final two games of the ACC tourney.
Winning the turnover battle is one of the things this small lineup does best. Offensive turnovers have dropped and the defense is forcing them at a higher rate.
The current rotation is averaging 9.2 steals and forcing 16.2 turnovers per game. On the offensive end, turnovers have been reduced to 10.4 per game. That's a pretty good ratio.
Villanova can't say the same.
Its defense ranks 54th in the nation, forcing 15 turnovers per game. But the offense still manages to give up more than the defense hands them, averaging 15.6 per game.
If the Tar Heels continue the trend of hard-nosed defense and smart ball movement, then they could easily wipe the floor with a Villanova offense that struggles to score.
Much of this will rest on the shoulders of Marcus Paige and P.J. Hairston.
If there is anything you should pay close attention to in this game, then it's the matchups of Marcus Paige, Ryan Arcidiacono, P.J. Hairston and JayVaughn Pinkston.
All of these guys play with grit and are arguably the most important players on their respective teams.
Paige is looking to pass a little more that Arcidiacono, but both grew up with shooter's blood running through their veins. Paige needs to put his defensive shoes on because Arcidiacono won't hesitate to launch a three.
He is attempting 6.3 per game and knocking them down at a 33.5 percent clip. While the percentage isn't great, that is simply because he is very streaky. When he gets hot, he'll stroke them all night.
In Arcidiacono's 32-point game against St. John's, he was 7-for-13 from behind the three-point line.
Arcidiacono also turns the ball over a lot, and that's where Paige can really do some damage. He has the most active hands on the squad, constantly poking the ball from unsuspecting victims.
Hairston versus Pinkston may be the most entertaining matchup, though.
Both players are very strong and will put a body on anyone. At 6'7", Pinkston isn't particularly tall, but he is pushing 260 pounds.
That's a lot of man.
He bullies his way to the free-throw line, averaging 7.1 attempts per game. And just because he's big, that doesn't mean he can't beat Hairston with his lighting-quick spin move.
Pinkston was made for the post, and this will be a true test for the former shooting guard.
Don't let the numbers on this 'Nova team fool you. Just look at the teams it beat.
If the Tar Heels lose their focus, then the Wildcats will have no problem making it a game. But if they play smart ball and follow these keys, then they should trample 'Nova and move on to Kansas.
That should make the networks happy—and the NCAA committee that doesn't "try and make matchups."