10 things every UCLA fan needs to know about No. 8 seed UNC
Two of college basketball’s most storied blue bloods will meet Friday night when 8 seed North Carolina and 4 seed UCLA square off in the Sweet 16 (9:40 p.m. ET, CBS). This will be the 14th meeting between the Bruins and Tar Heels, with North Carolina leading the series 10-3. This will be just the 3rd meeting in the NCAA Tournament; UCLA beat UNC in the 1968 championship game, and UNC eliminated UCLA in the 1989 tournament.
As the college basketball world prepares for the NCAA Tournament rubber match, here are 10 things every Bruins fan should know about North Carolina.
North Carolina has been to the most Sweet 16s of all time (30!)
Sweet 16 records date to 1975, when the field expanded enough so that every team had to win at least 1 game to reach the Sweet 16. (UCLA opened the NCAA Tournament already among the final 16 teams the first 9 times it won a national title under John Wooden.)
The Tar Heels are making their 30th Sweet 16 appearance in that span. The Tar Heels have won more NCAA Tournament games than any program in the country aside from Kentucky, with 20 more overall tournament wins than UCLA, which ranks 5th (behind Kentucky, UNC, Kansas and Duke) in all-time tournament wins. Of course, UCLA gets the last laugh, with 11 national championships to North Carolina’s 7.
North Carolina will be just the 5th top-25 offense UCLA has faced all season
The Tar Heels enter the Sweet 16 ranked 20th in the country in KenPom Adjusted Offensive Efficiency. UNC shoots 36.5% from deep as a team, a mark that is good enough for 41st nationally as well. The Tar Heels are a prolific offensive basketball team and they will stress a UCLA defense that has feasted on lesser offenses but is just 2-2 against Top 25 offenses this season.
North Carolina is the best defensive rebounding team left in the NCAA field
Led by All-ACC star Armando Bacot, who averages a ridiculous 12.5 rebounds per game, the Tar Heels are a dominant defensive rebounding team, ranking 2nd in the country in defensive rebounding percentage, per KenPom. Bacot is the linchpin of that success, and he has grabbed 10 rebounds or more in 28 of Carolina’s 35 games this season. Bruins fans shouldn’t be too discouraged, though, considering they just pounded a St. Mary’s team that entered the Round of 32 ranked 3rd nationally in defensive rebounding rate. The Bruins grabbed 27 rebounds to the Gaels’ 25 and won by 16 points.
Speaking of Bacot, the Heels star has 26 double-doubles this season, a UNC single-season record
Bacot’s 26 double-doubles also is the highest number of any player left in the NCAA Tournament. Only Kentucky’s Oscar Tshwiebe finished with more double-doubles this season.
North Carolina didn’t have a Quad 1 victory until February, when it won at Virginia Tech
North Carolina is 1 of only 2 teams left that didn’t have a Quad 1 before the month of February (St. Peter’s had to wait until it upset Kentucky last Thursday night in the first round for its first Quad 1 W). The Tar Heels finally grabbed a Quad 1 win when they beat Virginia Tech in Blacksburg on Feb. 19.
The Tar Heels have won 8 of their past 9, including 4 wins over NCAA Tournament teams in that stretch
You never want to peak too early, and North Carolina is definitely playing its best basketball of the season at the optimal time. On Feb. 16, the Tar Heels suffered an embarrassing home loss to a dreadful Pittsburgh squad that left them in Joe Lunardi’s “Last Four In” section of Bracketology.
Since that loss, the Tar Heels are 8-1, with wins over ACC Tournament champion Virginia Tech and ACC regular-season champion Duke, both on the road, and their first and second-round victories over Marquette and Baylor mixed into that streak. The Tar Heels are confident and will arrive in Philadelphia expecting to advance.
North Carolina’s defense has keyed the run to the Sweet 16
Through January, North Carolina ranked just outside the top 75 in KenPom Adjusted Defensive Efficiency. The Tar Heels could score, but it was a question of which team would show up defensively on any given night. In the Feb. 19 loss to Pitt, Carolina gave up a season-high 1.19 points per possession. Since that miserable defeat, only Syracuse has finished a game averaging more than a point per possession against the Tar Heels, and the Heels have held 4 teams, including NCAA Tournament teams Baylor, Virginia Tech and Marquette, under .85 points per possession, per Hoops Lens.
BartTorvik ranks the Tar Heels’ defense in the top 20 nationally over the past 10 games — a big reason the Tar Heels are back in the top 50 in both KenPom and BartTorvik defense and have made a surprise run to the Sweet 16.
But UCLA will have plenty of chances to run its offense
Why? The Tar Heels are the worst team in the field — and one of the worst in America- at forcing turnovers. UNC ranked 348th in creating turnovers nationally this season, a number that puts them in the bottom 10 among all programs. UCLA, an efficient offense that limits turnovers to begin with, will have plenty of opportunities to run its offense Friday night.
Brady Manek is the Tar Heels biggest matchup nightmare
Brady Manek is North Carolina’s 3rd-leading scorer on paper, but he’s the biggest problem that the offense poses to defenses. Manek, a super senior transfer from Oklahoma, is a 6-9 stretch 4 who looks like Larry Bird and Grizzly Adams had a child together. He is shooting 39.5% from 3-point range this season. He’s been even better against top 50 competition, per BartTorvik, as Manek connects on a staggering 41.5% of his looks from deep against top 50 teams like UCLA. Playing the final games of a decorated college career, Manek has scored 20 or more points in 4 of his last 5, including 26 points in 26 minutes before being ejected in North Carolina’s win over Baylor last Saturday. He had 28 vs. Marquette in the opening round.
If you want to beat North Carolina, frustrate Caleb Love
The attention given to Bacot and Manek is warranted, but the straw that stirs the drink for North Carolina is sophomore point guard Caleb Love.
How critical is Love to UNC? In 5 of North Carolina’s 9 losses, Love has coughed up 4 or more turnovers. The Tar Heels are a bizarre 6-0 when Love turns the ball over more than 5 times in a game, but Saturday’s win over Baylor, when Love had a dismal 6 turnovers and scored only 5 points before fouling out, was the first time North Carolina had defeated a quality opponent in such a circumstance. North Carolina had 21 turnovers in the win over Baylor, but 10 came after Love fouled out, leaving the Tar Heels with few options to handle Baylor’s pressure. North Carolina is 21-3 this season when Love has 3 turnovers or fewer, and UCLA must rattle him to win.