North Carolina is going for the ultimate redemption as the Tar Heels make their second straight Final Four appearance and would like a shot at another national title. Oregon, on the other hand, is probably the least likely of the Pac-12 teams to be in this situation outside of USC, which was in the First Four. Each team does it a little bit differently and because of that, there are several things to consider when it comes to this matchup.
This is a North Carolina squad that has been there, done that when it comes to the Final Four and everything surrounding it. Head coach Roy Williams is in this position for the fifth time with the Tar Heels and that experience is big. There are extra media obligations and a new arena that the team has probably never played in.
This is the farthest Dana Altman has gone since last year's Elite Eight appearance. He's also got a roster that has just one senior that plays a ton in Dylan Ennis. Chris Boucher is another senior, but he's injured and not available for this matchup. On the one hand, you can say that the Ducks will be a bit looser considering they weren't supposed to be here, but you could also see them start out real tight and struggle offensively from the start.
This is always an issue when you play the Tar Heels. They crash the boards like no other and are able to change games in this aspect. Oregon has just Kavell Bigby-Williams (6-11) and Jordan Bell (6-9) as their only true size although Dillon Brooks does check in at 6-foot-7. Bell has fouled out just once this season, in a 74-65 loss to Colorado back on Jan. 28. Bigby-Williams has not fouled out, but he doesn't average that many minutes per game.
There are so many numbers that back up how good UNC is on the boards. The Heels picked up 13 offensive rebounds on 31 missed shots in the win over Kentucky. For the season, they've cleaned up percent of their misses. Kennedy Meeks himself is in the top 10 in the country in offensive rebounding rate and had five of them versus UK. Isaiah Hicks and Tony Bradley also are very good rebounders.
3. Tempo, Tempo, Tempo
We've got your classic case of a fast-paced team against one that would rather it slow it down. North Carolina is in the top third or so in terms of pace according to Kenpom.com. The Tar Heels want this game to go faster so they can take advantage of their athletic advantage over most teams. Oregon's tempo is 241st so the Ducks prefer a grind it out affair despite having several athletes of their own. They managed to grind Kansas to a halt in the Elite Eight, as the Jayhawks struggled playing at the Ducks’ preferred pace.
The Heels split their two matchups with notoriously slow Virginia winning by 24 at home 65-41 while they fell 53-43 in Charlottesville. At times UNC seemed frustrated when it wasn’t able to get out and go. Likewise, Oregon split two contests with the fastest-paced conference opponent, UCLA. The Ducks won at home 89-87 while they took an 82-79 road loss. The Ducks have the weapons offensively to play faster, but they seem to enjoy flustering their opponents more.
4. Unsung Hero
The puns pretty much wrote themselves after North Carolina’s Luke Maye hit the biggest shot of his collegiate career in beating Kentucky in the Elite Eight. The sophomore reserve forward is averaging just 5.8 points per game in 14.4 minutes. But he has saved his best for last, scoring a combined 33 points with 15 rebounds in victories over Butler and Kentucky. He's now become a part of the scouting report for the Ducks. Starting guard Theo Pinson is another potential candidate to play a bigger role although it could be more with the intangibles of good defense and solid, all-around play.
For Oregon, your options are Payton Pritchard, Casey Benson or the aforementioned Bigby-Williams. If the big man out of London asserts himself offensively, it could lead to the upset win. He's cracked double digits in points just once, putting up 11 in 24 minutes vs. Savannah State. Benson and Pritchard will mainly be counted on to run the offense and keep the turnovers down.
5. Brooks vs. Jackson
Ultimately it comes down to the stars and how they perform under the bright lights. Dillon Brooks hasn't shot the ball great from the field during the NCAA Tournament, going 19-for-51 (.372). He also was held without a free throw in the last two wins and that has to change. The junior is a big shot maker so he won't shrink in the clutch.
Justin Jackson has been great this postseason although he's cooled off a bit from long range after a hot start in the Tournament. The junior has made nearly half of his shots in the last two games and has had no problems getting to the line. The question for Dana Altman is who will get the call in trying to slow the ACC Player of the Year down. You could put Brooks on Jackson, but he doesn't want his star to get into potential foul trouble. If you go Tyler Dorsey here, then size becomes an issue. We may ultimately see a little zone from the Ducks to counteract Jackson’s size.
— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Josephs prefers non-Power 5 college football and may be the only one wagering on the Sun Belt. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.
(Top photo by J.D. Lyon Jr., courtesy go www.goheels.com)