Bryan Altman, CBS Local Sports
Once the final buzzer sounds this Sunday night, we’ll know the four teams that have successfully navigated the treacherous NCAA Tournament and will take center stage in Houston, Texas on Saturday, April 2 to play in the Final Four.
Now that most of us are finally over the sting of the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament – which were two rounds that turned brackets across the country in confetti – we can now focus on attempting to make some sense of the next two rounds of the NCAA Tournament – the Sweet 16 and the Elite 8.
The UNC Tar Heels are the No. 1 seed and were the No. 1 team in the nation entering the tournament, so it’s hardly a bold proclamation to say that the Tar Heels are going to be representing the East Region in the Final Four.
But, here’s why.
For starters, their first round opponent – the Indiana Hoosiers – can’t match UNC’s size down low, particularly when it comes to the double-double machine that goes by the name of Brice Johnson.
Brice Johnson's dunk was great, but wait 'til you see this bench reaction. snpy.tv/25clOKg—
CBS Sports (@CBSSports) March 20, 2016
The senior forward has been stellar in the first two games of the tournament and that’s at both ends of the floor. His 21-point, 10-rebound double-double was a big part of his team’s win over Providence in the Round of 32 and there’s nobody on Indiana that can match up with him consistently.
SB Nation (@SBNation) March 20, 2016
Indiana’s Thomas Bryant is an above average player, but matching up with Johnson, arguably a top 10 player in college, will be a stretch.
While Indiana may arguably have better guard play and are a better shooting team overall (Indiana shoots at 50.5 percent, while UNC shoots at 47.8 percent) the Hoosiers and star shooter, guard Yogi Ferrell, will have to contend with having a tough North Carolina defensive until, lead by guard Marcus Paige.
Paige effectively shut down Player of the Year candidate Malcolm Brogdon in the ACC Championship and could make life miserable for Ferrell.
For Indiana, it’ll come down to whether or not the three ball drops for them and if they can stifle UNC’s forwards in the paint well enough to keep it close. Doing both of those consistently enough over 40 minutes to win a ballgame against the nation’s best team certainly feels like a longshot.
The other game in the region features the No. 6 seeded Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the No. 7 seeded Wisconsin Badgers. While both teams present unique challenges and are solid teams, they might just be happy to be here after wild finishes on Sunday.
In case you missed it, the day began with Notre Dame needing every last second to get by upstart underdog Stephen F. Austin. The Lumberjacks lead the Fighting Irish 75-74 until a tip-in by virtually unknown freshman Rex Pflueger with under two seconds to play gave Notre Dame the victory.
NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) March 20, 2016
Later that day, it was Wisconsin’s turn for some insanity. Tied at 63 with No. 2 seed Xavier, Bronson Koenig connected on a deep corner three as time expired to punch the Badgers’ ticket to the Sweet 16.
Now, the two face off for a chance to meet the winner of UNC vs. Indiana, but in all likelihood, the winner of the East region is going to come from the Indiana vs. UNC matchup.
But of course, my 64-team bracket is probably riding shotgun alongside most experts’ en route to the county dump, so who knows how this will play out. The only certainty is that UNC is the most talented and deep team in this region and they should be able to navigate Indiana as well as the winner of the Notre Dame vs. Wisconsin matchup and find themselves in the Final Four when it’s all said and done.
Bryan Altman is, for some reason, an unabashed fan of the Rangers, Jets and Mets. If he absolutely had to pick a basketball team it would be the Knicks, but he’d gladly trade them for just one championship for any of his other three teams.
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