Biggest Challenges North Carolina Faces in NCAA Tourney Matchup vs. Providence

Doug BrodessCorrespondent IMarch 20, 2014

Biggest Challenges North Carolina Faces in NCAA Tourney Matchup vs. Providence

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    Gerry Broome/Associated Press

    North Carolina will make their 45th NCAA tournament appearance as the Tar Heels take on Providence in San Antonio on Friday.

    Head coach Roy Williams is hoping that his unpredictable squad will recapture the poise and performance that led to their midseason 12-game win streak.

    The Friars received an automatic bid by taking down St. John's, Seton Hall and Creighton on their way to winning the Big East tournament.

    Even though the No. 6 seed Tar Heels should take care of the No. 11 seed Friars, the W will not come easily.

    Here are five challenges North Carolina faces when they go up against Providence.

Challenge No. 5: Handling Providence's 2-3 Zone Defense

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    Nati Harnik/Associated Press

    Providence did an excellent job of shutting down Dougie McBuckets and Creighton's perimeter shooting prowess in the Big East championship game.

    The Friars held the Bluejays to 1-of-12 shooting from beyond the arc.

    Head coach Ed Cooley may choose to use that same 2-3 zone defense against Carolina for the opposite reason. Rather than shutting down long-distance shooting, Cooley could want to tempt the Tar Heels into taking a truckload of threes by packing the lane.

    After all, the Tar Heels are not exactly a team of marksmen. Point guard Marcus Paige can hold his own from downtown. Leslie McDonald has his moments.

    Other than these two, Carolina has only hit 17 other three-point shots during the 2013-14 season.

Challenge No. 4: Keeping James Michael McAdoo out of Foul Trouble

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    Bob Leverone/Associated Press

    One way or another, junior forward James Michael McAdoo will be matched up against Providence's bruising big man, Kadeem Batts.

    Batts, a 6'9", 245-pound forward, loves to bang. McAdoo does not always fare well against those who play physical and super aggressive.

    To make sure that Carolina wins and moves on, the Tar Heels need McAdoo to not only stay in the game, but to also be productive.

    JMM needs to play aggressively and confidently on both ends of the court. Staying out of foul trouble is a must.

Challenge No. 3: Hitting Free Throws at Any Point in the Game

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    Bob Leverone/Associated Press

    To say that North Carolina has struggled from the free-throw line this year is an understatement.

    Four of the five UNC starters are shooting less than 63 percent on their freebies.

    As a team, when the Tar Heels get fouled and go to the line, they are hitting less than two-thirds of their free-throw attempts.

    Besides the points it is missing, Carolina leaves itself vulnerable to a "Hack-a-____" strategy. Teams that want to catch up or build a lead might deliberately start fouling any of a number of Tar Heel players, except Marcus Paige, who is hitting 88 percent of his free throws. 

    At this point in the season, not much can be done to fully correct this defect. Veteran players like Leslie McDonald and James Michael McAdoo need to find a way to take advantage of the opportunity when they go to the stripe.

Challenge No. 2: Deciding Which Front Line to Go with

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    Bob Leverone/Associated Press

    North Carolina has quite a collection of players who can step into the power forward or center positions.

    They have more depth in those two positions than any others on the roster.

    Recently, starting center Kennedy Meeks has been nursing a knee injury that has limited his production for at least the last five games. He has only scored 16 points and grabbed 25 rebounds in those five contests while playing 14 minutes per game.

    On the other hand, Brice Johnson has averaged 11 points and five rebounds per game over the same stretch.

    Meeks, even at less than full strength, is a better rebounder, but Johnson adds offensive spark.

    What Roy Williams will probably do is to employ a "front line by committee" approach to the Tar Heels second-round game against Providence.

    Hopefully, the rotation of bigs will provide enough defense and rebounding to put Carolina in position to get a W and advance.

Challenge No.1: Containing Bryce Cotton

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    Stew Milne/Associated Press

    Providence's Bryce Cotton, the Big East tournament MVP, is the No. 9 scorer in the nation (21.4 PPG).

    He puts points on the board from distance, by driving and by going to the line.

    Cotton went for at least 20 points in 24 of the Friars' 34 games. He is a player who can take over a game and is deserving of special defensive attention.

    One of the ways that Carolina may choose to slow Cotton down is to play a box-and-one on him, making the Friars' other four players beat them.

    Regardless of what method Roy Williams chooses, doing a good job on Cotton is a must.