UNC basketball returns to action in Memphis on Friday night in the Sweet 16. The top-seeded Tar Heels will take on Butler in a 7:09 p.m. tipoff at FedEx Forum. The winner faces either Kentucky or UCLA Sunday for the right to advance to the Final Four. What are the five keys to North Carolina winning a national championship?
The Tar Heels have dominated opponents on the glass all season. Heading into the Butler matchup, Carolina leads the country in rebounding margin at plus-13.1.
UNC’s plus-13 rebounding advantage in its second-round win over Arkansas, including a plus-10 margin on the offensive glass, was a major catalyst in its comeback victory. For Roy Williams’ team to get past Butler and others, it will have to continue to own the boards.
Kill the turnovers
The Arkansas game was a model of inefficiency for the Tar Heels as they committed 17 turnovers. The Razorbacks made UNC pay for nearly every mistake, scoring 24 points off of turnovers.
During one disastrous stretch in the second half, the Tar Heels committed four turnovers in just over three minutes. Failing to score during that stretch, UNC allowed Arkansas to build a 65-60 lead in the final minutes. Against an efficient club like Butler, which doesn’t make many mistakes, turnovers could seal UNC’s fate.
Joel Berry needs to heat up
Joel Berry has struggled on offense lately, shooting just 20.7 percent from the floor (6-of-29) over UNC’s last three contests. The junior point guard has been even worse from long range, shooting just 17.6 percent (3-of-17) in that stretch.
In his defense, Berry suffered an ankle injury in the Texas Southern game. However, he played 34 minutes against Arkansas — well above his usual average. UNC can count on Berry distributing the ball well and making good decisions. Now the Heels need him to get back on track as a shooter.
Closing the deal
UNC has blown double-digit leads in two of its last three games. The Tar Heels were in complete control over Duke in the ACC Tournament semifinals, positioned to blow the Devils out. That was before Berry went down with his fourth foul. The Blue Devils outscored the Tar Heels 29-14 over the next 10 minutes on their way to a comeback victory.
Then, against Arkansas in the second round, the Tar Heels blew an early 30-13 lead. They need to continue getting off to fast starts against the quality opponents; the key, though, is not letting their opponent up off the ground.
Use the experience
UNC has a unique advantage over much of the remaining NCAA Tournament field. The Tar Heels’ seniors will be playing in their 14th NCAA Tournament game on Friday. The juniors will be playing in their 12th.
A free throw in the closing minutes could make the difference. It could be beating a press or executing an offensive play at a critical moment. But for the Tar Heels to make their way to Phoenix and win the national title, they have to play with cool resolve.
The cool resolve that is often a hallmark of veteran teams.