North Carolina will face off with Villanova in one of the Round of 64's most anticipated games. Not only is it a matchup of power-conference programs, but both squads are capable of putting a scare into Kansas should they advance and the top-seeded Jayhawks are not upset.
The biggest key for the Tar Heels is finding a way to elevate their level of play in the tournament. All season long they have taken care of business against inferior competition. However, when the going got tough, they weren't able to get over the hump.
Of the team's 10 defeats, the only one that could possibly go in the "bad loss" category would be to Texas, but even that game was on the road. On the flip side, the only victory that stands out is one over UNLV in December.
Now it's time to see what the Tar Heels are really made of in a pressure situation. There's no doubt that the roster features enough talent to make some serious noise, led by the trio of players over 14 points per game, but they must find a way to translate that into big wins.
The good news for North Carolina is that Villanova also likes to push the pace. It should be a wide-open, back-and-forth game and that plays right into UNC's hands.
Getting James Michael McAdoo going on the interior right away is the biggest key. The quicker he can establish himself down low, which will draw in the Villanova defense, the more outside looks the team's myriad of shooters are going to get.
The Tar Heels have four different players on their roster with at least 40 threes for the season. It includes P.J. Hairston and Reggie Bullock, who both knocked down more than 80. That's a lot of offensive firepower if everybody is clicking at the same time.
It's also important for either Dexter Strickland or star freshman Marcus Paige to take control of the offense. Far too often in the big games during the regular season nobody stepped into that role and good teams are always going to take advantage of an offense without a leader.
Which team will advance?
Villanova is a team that excels on the defensive end, mostly due to the ability to get in the passing lanes, force turnovers and turn them into easy points on the other end. That's why it's crucial to have somebody who's going to protect the ball running the offense.
On defense, North Carolina's biggest concern is Ryan Arcidiacono. He's an extremely streaky player, but when he gets hot he's capable of carrying the Wildcats on his back. Wins over Connecticut, St. John's, and Marshall are good examples of when he did exactly that.
If the Tar Heels can force him into a lot of contested jumpers and keep Mouphtaou Yarou from dominating on the offensive glass, these should be able to contain the Villanova defense.
Neither of these teams found their peak during the regular season. If one of them could put it all together for tournament time, they are a dangerous sleeper because there have been signs throughout the season of some very high-level play.
Ultimately, the Tar Heels should have enough scoring threats to power them into the Round of 32.
Prediction: North Carolina 71, Villanova 68