TEXAS A&M AGGIES
vs. NORTH CAROLINA TAR HEELS
NCAA Tournament – Second Round – Spectrum Center, Charlotte, NC
Tip-off: Sunday, 5:15 pm ET
Line: UNC -6.5, Total: 151.5
The underdog Aggies will look to use a size advantage over UNC.
The reputation of the Atlantic Coast Conference took a hit on Friday night, when conference champion Virginia became the first No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 seed in the NCAA Tournament, suffering an unimaginable 20-point loss to UMBC of the America East. Fortunately for the sake of the ACC's collective pride, plenty of national title contenders survived to make the field of 32, with No. 2 seed North Carolina arguably ranking foremost among them. UNC survived and advanced the opening round of March Madness with an 84-66 win over No. 15 seed Lipscomb. It wasn't a dominating win for the Tar Heels against the inferior competition—they trailed 33-31 with four minutes remaining in the first half and won each half by fewer than double-digits—but it wasn't close either, as Carolina had plenty of minutes to spare for its benchwarmers down the stretch. They now play Sunday with a Sweet Sixteen berth on the line, with No. 7 seed Texas A&M standing in their way. After a hot start to the season gave way to a relatively mediocre campaign overall, the Aggies were largely overlooked entering the tournament. But A&M proved that its no joke with a 73-69 victory over an underseeded No. 10 seed Providence. After a full season of major conference play in the SEC, A&M won't be intimidated against the favored Tar Heels.
While his senior leadership and court vision have undoubtedly played an enormous role in North Carolina's success this season, senior PG Joel Berry III has quietly had a bad shooting season. That unfortunate trend continued against Lipscomb, as his 14 points were hard-earned on 6-of-15 shooting (2-9 3P). His three assists were offset by three turnovers (although he also added three steals). He'll need to play better for Carolina to survive against stronger competition, starting with Texas A&M. PF Luke Maye, this team's other leader, also struggled from the floor with 10 points on 2-of-9 shooting. Fortunately for the Tar Heels, their remaining three starters shot almost flawlessly. The backcourt duo of Gs Kenny Williams and Cameron Johnson combined to score 30 points on 11-of-16 shooting (6-8 3P). Most critically for UNC, their x-factor was on his game. That would be F Theo Pinson, who approached a triple-double in 35 minutes on the floor with 15 points (6-8 FG), 10 rebounds and seven assists. Pinson is infamous on Tobacco Road for his mercurial performance level from game to game, so a strong Friday performance hardly guarantees the same for Saturday. That said, Tar Heel fans would obviously rather see a confident Pinson than not at this time of year. Reserve F Sterling Manley needed only 10 minutes off the bench to grab 10 rebounds and score six points.
At 6-8, Maye is the tallest player in Carolina's starting lineup, which means he's dwarfed my not one, not two, but three starters on Texas A&M. (UNC reserves Manley and freshman F Garrison Brooks, who stand 6-11 and 6-9, respectively, got a combined 26 minutes off the bench against Lipscomb.) C Tyler Davis (6-10) had 14 points and 15 rebounds against the Friars, while Williams was similarly bruising with 13 points, 14 rebounds and a last-minute windmill dunk that put an exciting cap on the Aggies' win. (6-9 F DJ Hogg was quieter with five points and six rebounds.) Of course, Maye and UNC have beat Duke—which arguably has the most imposing front line in the country—twice this season already, so Williams and Davis will need to do more than just show up if they want to outplay Maye and co. While earning an advantage on the boards will be critical to A&M's chances against Carolina, whether or not they receive solid guard play could ultimately be the determining factor. On Friday, that was certainly the case. Starting guards Admon Gilder (18 points, 6-10 FG, 3 assists) and TJ Starks (15 points, 8 assists), a freshman, played just as well as the bigs. Starks is averaging less than 10 PPG on the season, but Friday's outing and a 23-point game against Alabama in the SEC Tournament shows how much he's grown over the course of the year. Three Aggies came off the bench to score only seven points in 32 total minutes, showing a lack of depth that could be of concern if and when the starters tire over the course of the tournament.