Location: Houston, Texas
Rankings: No. 207 KenPom, NR AP
Record: 23-11, 16-2 SWAC
Bid: Automatic (Defeated Alcorn State 53-50 in SWAC final)
Carolina Series History (Last Meeting): First meeting
While Texas Southern may not be a household name, head coach Mike Davis will certainly stir some memories for Carolina fans. Now in his fifth season with the Tigers, Davis is best remembered for his stints at Indiana, where he took the Hoosiers to the 2002 NCAA title game, and UAB, where he preceded former UNC assistant Jerod Haase.
Texas Southern has become a powerhouse in the SWAC under Davis, who has led TSU to four regular season titles in five years and, in 2017, a third NCAA tournament appearance. The Tigers embarked on a brutal 16-game road trip to start the season and lost eight straight before starting SWAC play. They dominated their league foes to the tune of a 16-2 regular-season record, however, and held off runner-up Alcorn State in the conference tournament final to book a trip to Greenville.
TSU is led by SWAC Player of the Year Zach Lofton, a 6-3 junior who paced the Tigers with 17.0 points per game. He is joined by 5-7 point guard Trae Jefferson, the league freshman of the year, and tournament MVP Marvin Jones. At 7-0, Jones is the Tigers' top rebounder and primary interior threat after the departure of reigning SWAC POY Derrick Griffin, who left the team in December to prepare for the NFL Draft.
Texas Southern, while not a particularly skilled shooting team, led the SWAC in offensive efficiency by a wide margin due in large part to the Tigers' ability to get to the foul line. TSU ranks sixth nationally in free throw rate, and Jones, who makes nearly 78 percent of his foul shots, is among the top 30 individuals in the country at getting to the line.
Location: Fayetteville, Ark.
Rankings: No. 38 KenPom, NR AP
Record: 25-9, 12-6 SEC
Bid: At-large (Lost to Kentucky 82-65 in SEC final)
Carolina Series History (Last Meeting): Carolina leads 5-3 (UNC 87, Arkansas 78, March 21, 2015, Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena)
Arkansas has been a relatively familiar foe for the Tar Heels on opening weekend of late. The Razorbacks are in Carolina's subregional pod for the third time in 10 seasons following UNC wins in 2008 in Charlotte and 2015 in Jacksonville. Following the 2015 meeting, a tight contest that saw the Tar Heels pull away late for an 87-78 victory, Arkansas took a temporary step back, slipping to 16-16 and missing out on postseason play.
Mike Anderson's club didn't stay down for long, however, and the Razorbacks are back in the tournament with a 25-9 mark that saw them advance to the SEC final after a third-place finish in the regular season. And the Hogs are peaking at the right time, having won eight of 10 entering Friday with their only losses coming to Florida and Kentucky.
As has been the case for the bulk of Anderson's time in Fayetteville, Arkansas is winning with an up-tempo offense that limits turnovers to create a high volume of shot attempts. ESPN's John Gasaway has the Razorbacks as the seventh-best power conference team in his Shot Volume Index, which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like (and is, coincidentally, led comfortably by Carolina).
The Hogs are led by second-team All-SEC senior Moses Kingsley (Beast Mo to his friends), a 6-10 forward who averages 11.8 points and a team-best 7.8 rebounds per game. His work on the defensive glass (he gets 21.5 percent of available misses on that end) is critical, as Arkansas ranks 326th nationally in defensive rebounding percentage according to KenPom.com. Kingsley is joined by three others who score in double figures, including a pair of 38-percent outside shooters in Dusty Hannahs and Daryl Macon.
Arkansas can comfortably go nine deep, so the Razorbacks may be one of the few teams in the tournament equipped to run with Carolina if the two teams meet for a third time in the second round.
Location: South Orange, N.J.
Rankings: No. 53 KenPom, NR AP
Record: 21-11, 10-8 Big East
Bid: At-large (Lost to Villanova 55-53 in Big East semifinals)
Carolina Series History (Last Meeting): Carolina leads 4-1 (UNC 95, Seton Hall 65, Nov. 28, 1997, Sullivan Arena)
It's kind of hard to believe that Carolina and Seton Hall haven't met on the hardwood in 20 years, but it was 1997 when their paths last crossed at the Great Alaska Shootout. While the Tar Heels have been to five Final Fours since then, the Pirates have spent much of that time wandering in the proverbial college hoops desert. In fact, Seton Hall is making back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances for the first time since the glory days of P.J. Carlesimo in the early 90s.
The 2017 Pirates are winning with defense and rebounding. Led by 6-10 junior Angel Delgado, one of college basketball's best rebounders, Seton Hall ranks in the top 35 nationally in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentage. A first-team All-Big East forward from the Dominican Republic, Delgado averages a double-double (15.3 ppg, 13.1 rpg) and gets to the line at a high rate, though he is a sub-60-percent shooter when he gets there.
Junior Khadeen Carrington is the Hall's top scorer and top outside shooter for a team that ranks outside the top 200 nationally in 3-point percentage. Defensively, forwards Michael Nzei and Ismael Sanogo are the top shot-blockers for a team that doesn't really block shots, while senior guard Madison Jones has a top-75 steal percentage. Overall, Seton Hall essentially only plays seven, so avoiding foul trouble, which the Pirates do fairly well, is a must.