What keys will you be watching against Providence?
Adam Lucas: Offensive rebounding, for two very important reasons. Carolina has not been good at keeping opponents off the offensive boards lately, and Providence has consistently been pretty good in that category--they led the Big East in offensive rebounding rate.
On paper, it doesn't look like the Friars are going to beat you with their first shot, because they're not a great shooting team. But they appear to be good enough to beat you with their second or third shot, and that's something Carolina has allowed to happen too often during the two-game losing streak.
Jones Angell: What's interesting is that Carolina was so good on the glass for such a long period of time. That was a big reason why the Tar Heels were so successful during the six-week period that included the long winning streak. It wasn't just Carolina's rebounding, but their ability to keep the other team off the boards. Now, Pitt is a good rebounding team and has been all year, and Duke pretty clearly has made an intentional effort to improve in that area, and you could see in Greensboro they were emphasizing it. But everyone the Tar Heels face now is going to emphasize rebounding. These are one-and-done games, and it's a great way to have a chance to win those games.
I do think rebounding is the category to watch. But if I have to pick something else, it would be Providence's shooting percentage and the quality of shots they are getting. The Tar Heel defense had been playing well, but opponents have shot at least 50 percent in back-to-back games. And for the two or three games before that, teams were shooting in the upper 40s. Carolina is not as gifted offensively this year, so it has to keep opponents' scoring in a lower range because it is tougher to just outscore opponents than it has been in the past.
What has to happen for this team to advance into the second weekend?
JA: Some of the answers to this question are in the above response. I also think the Tar Heels need to get back to distributing some of the points. That was beneficial during the stretch of good play. There were consistent players like Marcus Paige and James Michael McAdoo, but there were other scorers on any given night, whether it was Kennedy Meeks or Brice Johnson or Leslie McDonald. NCAA opponents are going to want to take Marcus Paige away. So will Carolina have another reliable option?
AL: As you mentioned above, Carolina has to go back to playing the kind of defense they were playing in February. And the reason is what we've already talked about several times--that kind of defense turns into offense, which turns into easier baskets, which greatly helps the offense. The Tar Heels don't want to get into the type of game where they have to grind it out for 20-25 seconds on every possession.
Some of this depends on the other team turning it over more frequently. But there's also a part of it that the Tar Heels can control. They have to get out and really run the court with a purpose, with the idea that they're going to beat the other team to the rim. There have been times this year where that commitment hasn't been evident for all 40 minutes.
What player is your NCAA Tournament wild card?
AL: I'm going to go with Brice Johnson. I think he is the one player in the rotation other than Paige who has shown he can get hot for six games in a row and provide some major offensive punch. But really, the question with Brice isn't about his offense. Anyone who has watched him play for two years knows he can put the ball in the basket. The real question is whether he can play consistently enough on defense to stay in the game and help the team on offense.
JA: I'm going with Leslie McDonald. Carolina needs someone who can shoot from the outside other than Marcus Paige, and he is the person most equipped to do that on this team. If we asked when Carolina played its best this season, it would probably be the two-game stretch against Duke and Wake Forest. Leslie was shooting lights out in those games. Any team, and that includes this team, is so different when it has the ability to hurt you from the outside in addition to the other areas with Brice Johnson and James Michael McAdoo.
AL: I will mention one other player you just said. Carolina needs the type of emotional, engaged play it received from McAdoo in the middle of the season. He makes such a difference in Carolina's offense when he is aggressive and attacking the rim, because there just aren't many teams that have the personnel to defend McAdoo when he is aggressive. He's not going to make all his free throws, but he's going to make some of them, and it also provides the benefit of getting the opponent into foul trouble.