X-Factors to Watch for in North Carolina vs Providence NCAA Tournament Matchup
North Carolina needs to get back on track...Now!
Because March Madness is "win or go home," the Tar Heels need to bring their two-game losing streak to a halt when they play their second round game against Providence on Friday in San Antonio.
Because of UNC's unpredictability and Providence's swagger coming out of winning the Big East tourney, this is a toss-up game.
Let's look at some important, but not obvious, keys that could determine the outcome of this contest.
Unless otherwise noted, all advanced stats via Kenpom.com
Tar Heels' X Factor #3: Johnson Ignites Team off the Bench
Sophomore forward Brice Johnson has played a vital role on this team as the first frontcourt player off the bench.
Though he plays less than 20 minutes per game, Johnson is the team's third leading scorer and second leading rebounder.
Johnson immediately contributes when he checks in to the game. It is fairly common for the 6'9" sophomore to make something happen in the first possession.
Put backs. Blocked shots. Rebounds. You name it; he produces them. In the last two games, he has scored 31 points in 41 minutes.
While Johnson has some legitimate areas of development, he takes care of things on this team that no one else does.
Friars' X Factor #2: Size off the Bench
Before Carson Desrosiers checks into the game for the first time, North Carolina will already have some background info on him.
Desrosiers played two years at Wake Forest before transferring to Providence.
The seven-footer is one of the few subs that head coach Ed Cooley uses, and he may see more action than normal against the Tar Heels.
His size is definitely a big plus when facing Carolina's frontcourt mob.
Desrosiers isn't likely to go on a scoring rampage, but he is a big body. He can help battle under the boards and provide some rim protection for the Friars.
Tar Heels' X Factor #2: A Long Bench
Carolina coach Roy Williams uses a lot of players in a normal game. The Tar Heels may regularly rotate more frontcourt players than just about any other team in the nation.
Williams does a good job of keeping fresh legs and energetic bodies on the court. Look for him to push the tempo a little harder and sub out players frequently in order to tire the Friars.
Providence has a short bench, sometimes only using six players in an entire game. A good example of this was the Big East championship game, where four PC starters played all 40 minutes.
When it comes down to the final minutes of this second-round game, UNC may have an advantage since their players should have had a little rest at various points during the contest.
Friars' X Factor #1: Tough Team Defense
In the Big East championship game, Providence did what few teams have been able to do this season: slow down the juggernaut that is Creighton's offense.
The Friars held the Bluejays to a season-low 17 points and 1-of-12 shooting from beyond the arc in the first half.
Coach Ed Cooley's crew has the athleticism and ability to be a fierce defensive team. Now, they just need to keep that as a focus going forward.
If they apply just as much pressure on Carolina as they did on Creighton, the Friars could send the Tar Heels back to Chapel Hill before the weekend.
Tar Heels' X Factor #1: Tokoto Is Ready for Lift off
Throughout the 2013-14 season, we have seen flashes of excellence from sophomore forward J.P. Tokoto.
He has had an impressive collection of highlight-reel dunks and jaw-dropping blocks and has done well on some difficult defensive assignments.
But, this year's March Madness would be a perfect place for him to take his game to the next level.
He is becoming a more consistent offensive threat, averaging close to 10 PPG. He is doing significant work on the glass, pulling down 7 RPG over the last five games.
The 6'5" sophomore uses his freakish athleticism to make some timely plays on the defensive end.
This second round battle against Providence will be another opportunity for Tokoto to help the Heels win an important game.
Because North Carolina has more impressive wins against some of the top teams in the country than Providence does, it is conceivable to favor the Tar Heels over the Friars in this matchup.
However, we will not truly know how Carolina will play until game time. This team is that erratic.
Prediction: UNC wins on a last possession basket.
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