UNC looks to stop Tide's high-octane offense from rolling in Sweet 16 clash :: WRALSportsFan.com

UNC looks to stop Tide’s high-octane offense from rolling in Sweet 16 clash :: WRALSportsFan.com

Alabama Crimson Tide19Alabama Crimson Tide
North Carolina Tar Heels5North Carolina Tar Heels
CBS | Thursday, March 28th 9:39 PM EDT

— North Carolina men’s basketball team aims to return to the Elite Eight for the fourth time since 2016 in a matchup with Alabama on Thursday night in the NCAA Tournament’s West region.

Top-seeded UNC is set to face the No. 4 seed Crimson Tide in the Sweet 16 at Crypto.com Arena during its quest to get back to the Final Four. The challenge for UNC will be stifling the Tide on the scoreboard. Alabama, led by coach Nate Oats, carries one of the most efficient offenses in Division I, averaging 90.7 points a game.

“From a defensive standpoint, tremendous athleticism,” said UNC coach Hubert Davis when asked about Alabama’s strengths. “They can get steals and deflections, great rebounding team, they try to dictate and decide how you play on offensive end.

“From an offensive standpoint, they’re trying to get threes, layups and dunks and free throws. They’ve got the personnel to be able to do it. Great guard play, size at the 4 and 5 positions that can shoot 3s and finish around the basket so they pose a lot of problems and challenges.”

A return trip to Glendale, Arizona, where the Heels won the 2017 national championship, was a goal established when the bulk of their roster returned from last season and was bolstered impactful transfer players like Harrison Ingram and Cormac Ryan. Although the Heels were knocked off by NC State in the ACC championship, they’ve fought off battle-tested teams in the first two rounds of the tournament to defiantly advance to the second weekend.

The Tar Heels (29-7) and Crimson Tide (23-11) will tip off around 9:40 p.m., depending on when the Arizona-Clemson game wraps up. It’s the first meeting between the teams since last season, when Alabama edged UNC 103-101 in four overtimes in the Phil Knight Invitational.

Familiarity is abundant for the Heels in the west, as UNC split the season series with ACC foe Clemson and Pac-12 Player of the Year Caleb Love, who spent three seasons in Chapel Hill, could be lingering in the region final should the Wildcats and Tar Heels both win.

ESPN Analytics gives UNC a 50.4% chance to win Thursday night, an interesting statistic given how prolific the Heels have looked at times this season. Alabama lit up the scoreboard in a first-round win against College of Charleston 109-96 and gutted out a 72-61 victory against Grand Canyon University in the second round.

UNC scored 17 straight points to turn a 12-point deficit into a comfortable 85-69 win against Michigan State on Saturday.

On Thursday, a heavy focus centers around the matchup between guards Mark Sears and RJ Davis.

Sears is one of the nation’s most gifted scorers, averaging 21.5 points per game for the Tide, a hair more than the ACC Player of the Year, RJ Davis (21.3). Sears scored 26 points against GCU as the Tide took over in the final six minutes.

“I think it’s a really good matchup,” RJ Davis said. “I have a lot of respect for his game, just the way he orchestrates the offense. He’s able to get to his spots, setting his man up, using ball screens.

“He’s the head of the snake.”

The Tide haven’t reached the Elite Eight since 2004, when they were led by former NC State coach Mark Gottfried.

The last time UNC played in Los Angeles was the Sweet 16 in 2015, where they fell to Wisconsin 79-72.

Source: wralsportsfan.com