5 Arkansas Razorbacks vs. 4 North Carolina Tar Heels
8:40 p.m. ET, TNT
The Razorbacks made this round by the hair of their chinny-chin-chins, dispatching 12-seed Wofford 56-53 in the opening round. They'll have to do better than that to win today against a much better North Carolina squad that is looking for its first Sweet 16 appearance since 2012.
The Tar Heels had a similar near-elimination experience, needing all 40 minutes to put away 13-seed Harvard 67-65. UNC found its consistency again in 2014-15, with the only loss to a non-NCAA Tournament team on the slate coming against NIT 4-seed Pitt. They weren't without some close calls here and there as all good teams are, but they had nothing like Arkansas's slip ups against Clemson and Tennessee.
North Carolina enters the game at No. 15 in the KenPom ratings, while Arkansas is No. 28. Both teams are more efficient on offense, although neither is a slouch on defense as well. UNC rates No. 12 in offensive efficiency and No. 54 in defensive efficiency, while Arkansas is 20th in offensive efficiency and 77th in defensive efficiency.
Arkansas set a new season low with only 48 field goal attempts against Wofford, but that mark is unlikely to be challenged today. North Carolina is 13th nationally at 69.7 possessions per 40 minutes, while Arkansas is just behind at 17th nationally and 69.5 possessions per 40 minutes. If you're looking for some offense, you've come to the right game.
Arkansas only played two teams in the neighborhood of North Carolina, which I define as being within ten spots in the KenPom ratings above or below. It also played two games against a team notably better and three games against teams notably worse but not by a ton.
|Iowa State||R||16||S3||L, 95-77|
The Hogs split the games against the comparables, beating SMU but falling to Iowa State. That the win was close and the loss was not is not a great sign for this game. Sweeping the games against the lesser teams than the Tar Heels at least is a nice consolation.
UNC meanwhile played seven games against an opponent in Arkansas's neighborhood, eight against teams notably better, and five against teams notably worse but not by a long shot.
|Ohio State||N||20||W10||W, 82-74|
|Notre Dame||H||13||MW3||L, 71-70|
|NC State||R||41||E8||W, 81-79|
|Louisville||R||22||E4||L, 78-68 OT|
|Duke||R||6||S1||L, 92-90 OT|
|NC State||H||41||E8||L, 58-46|
|Notre Dame||N||13||MW3||L, 90-82|
These tables make the Tar Heels look a lot more battle tested, no? Anyway, they were 4-3 against the comparable opponents with wins over Louisville twice, UCLA, and Ohio State but losses to Butler, Iowa, and Louisville. The Heels were just 1-7 against the better teams, with the sole win being over UVA in the ACC Tournament. UVA is nothing like Arkansas, and for what it's worth, UNC didn't get any closer to Kentucky than Arkansas did.
Players to Watch
North Carolina's starting lineup has a good mix of positions, making it one of the more complete teams of the tournament. Guard Marcus Paige leads the way with 13.9 points per game, but right behind him is forward Brice Johnson with 13.1 points and 7.7 rebounds per game. Kennedy Meeks isn't far behind Johnson with 11.6 points per game and 7.5 rebounds per game.
Of course, Arkansas has a good inside-outside combo with Bobby Portis and Michael Qualls. The two of them were the most instrumental Razorbacks in defeating Wofford in the first round. Somewhat worryingly, the team didn't get very much from its bench in that game. The five reserves managed just nine points and five rebounds combined. Granted the slow pace of the game limited what they could do, but they also collectively shot just 4/13 from the field. They'll have to do more this time around to pick up the win.
Roy Williams is in his 25th NCAA Tournament appearance, and he's made it past the first weekend in 16 of the 24 prior appearances. He's only failed to make it to the second weekend just four times as a 4-seed or better in 19 past opportunities. Mike Anderson meanwhile has bested his seed expectation four times in his past six tournaments, with the other two occasions being him losing in the first round as a lower seed. Making it to the Sweet 16 officially means he beats the 5-seed's expectation, keeping his record clean.
Arkansas has plenty to play for here, with Anderson looking to restore the program to previous tournament heights. UNC is playing to prevent only the second time in Williams's career that he's failed to make the Sweet 16 in three consecutive years.
This game should be a fun one, with plenty of offense as the teams race up and down the floor. I suspect that either Portis or Qualls will make a play at the end to win this one, but I could also imagine a tight Razorback team getting beat handily by a Tar Heel outfit with more tournament experience.
Arkansas 80, UNC 77