The North Carolina basketball team is one step closer to securing their second straight NCAA National Championship. Selection Sunday has concluded and the Tar Heels were awarded the No. 2 seed in the West Region. Their first game in the NCAA tournament will be March 16 against No. 15 seed Lipscomb in Charlotte, North Carolina.
The path to back-to-back national championships has been filled with ups and downs for the Tar Heels. Several win streaks, tough losses, and a defeat in the ACC Championship game has prepared them for their 2018 title run.
It would be difficult to rank the regions in order of difficulty, but the West Region comes loaded with powerhouse programs who all have a realistic shot at making it to the Final Four. The West includes the likes of the Michigan Wolverines, Ohio State Buckeyes, Missouri Tigers, Gonzaga Bulldogs, and Xavier Musketeers.
It is possible that North Carolina will face Michigan in the Sweet 16. The Tar Heels easily handled the Wolverines in their matchup earlier this season, but with one game on the line both teams will bring their best. It is questionable if Michigan will make it to the Sweet 16. Along the way the Wolverines may face the University of Houston which has been a solid team all year.
The Elite 8 will pose the biggest threat to the Tar Heels’ title defense. There are four teams that they have a chance of squaring off against. It could be Ohio State, Gonzaga, Missouri, or Xavier. Missouri would be the sleeper of the four because of the return of Michael Porter Jr. Porter, who is seen as one of the top five picks in the upcoming draft, can change the dynamic of the Missouri Tigers. He has played only 25 minutes the entire season but it is possible that his workload will increase the further Missouri goes into the tourney. There is little proof of how good Missouri can be with him in the lineup.
For the Tar Heels to make a deep run in the tournament they will need a total effort from their roster. We saw how good the team could be when Theo Pinson is at his best. He does not have to be a scorer, but when his activity level is high the team has good a chance to secure victories. If North Carolina can battle on the boards as they have done all season they will coast through their first two contests.
Luke Maye will be vital in those big games as well. He must show up every night for the team to be in position to win. Shooting poor percentages as he did against Duke in the ACC Tournament and against Michigan State in the PK80 Invitational will not help the team’s efforts. He has to be efficient while also preventing second chance points.
North Carolina can make a deep run if they build upon the momentum they established late in the season. With timely rotations and contributions from the bench, the chances of success will be high for the Tar Heels.