The No. 4-seeded North Carolina Tar Heels (24-11) will be looking to avoid an upset against the No. 13-seeded Harvard Crimson (22-7) when the two schools meet in the Round of 64 on Thursday at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Jacksonville.
The Tar Heels enter the match after some solid victories in recent weeks. They lost in the finals of the ACC tournament to Notre Dame but defeated Boston College as well as heavyweights Louisville and Virginia. Juniors Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson have been especially sharp. Johnson averages 13.2 points per game, but has upped his average to 17.8 ppg over the last five contests. Paige leads the team with 13.9 ppg, but has similarly upped his average to 18.2 over the last five games.
The Tar Heels boast a strong rebounding and scoring squad. However, the Tar Heels have struggled to limit turnovers and have had stretches of poor defense this season. Head coach Roy Williams knows what his team is up against when they face the Ivy League champions.
“I watched part of the game against Cornell, and as I said before, they are a good basketball team that is well coached,” Williams said on his radio show, via Inside Carolina. “We’ve got our work cut out for us. When you are a four seed and you are playing a 13 seed, they are pretty doggone good.”
Williams also won't likely take the Crimson lightly due to their recent history in the tournament. Harvard has won their first matchup in the NCAA tournament the last two years, defeating New Mexico in 2013 and Cincinnati in 2014. A win over North Carolina would help shed the perception that Harvard are not difficult early round opponents.
"I think that's obvious, and we certainly have that, and we're proud of that," Amaker added about the Crimson's confidence entering the tournament. "That's not going to necessarily help us rebound the ball against Carolina, but I do think the fact that our kids, we have a veteran team, many of our players have had experience in the tournament, have had success and experience in the tournament. We're hopeful to draw on that."
The Crimson have won five straight Ivy League titles with Amaker in his eighth year. This year's squad leans heavily on star senior guard Wesley Saunders. He averages 16.4 points, 6.1 rebounds and 4.2 assists. Senior Steve Moundou-Missi provides an interior presence, averaging 9.7 points and 7.4 rebounds. He’ll have his hands full dealing with a bigger, athletic UNC frontcourt.
Amaker has some extra motivation to upset the Tar Heels. He played point guard for the rival Duke Blue Devils from 1983-87 and later served as an assistant for Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski. It should be a tough challenge to pull the win off, however, the Crimson are 10-1/2 point underdogs, according to bovada.lv.
Start Time: 7:20 p.m. ET
TV Channel: TNT
Live Stream: Watch online at March Madness Live
Prediction: Harvard is well coached and will likely give UNC a few challenges. But UNC is simply to athletic and will dominate on the boards. Their offense seems to be hitting a groove as well, which means the Crimson are likely in trouble.
North Carolina over Harvard, 78-71