Since 2005, the North Carolina Tar Heels have won two national titles and made the Elite Eight six times, but continuing that outstanding run depends on their matchup against the Villanova Wildcats Friday night at the Sprint Center in Kansas City.
The eighth seed Tar Heels finished the season unranked, and made their third straight appearance in the ACC title game before an 87-77 loss to Miami.
P.J. Hairston put up 28 points and James Michael McAdoo recorded 12 points and five rebounds, but North Carolina played from behind for most of the game and was outrebounded 33-26.
A 6’5” sophomore point guard, Hairston has scored in double figures in 16 straight games, and North Carolina has gone 11-5 in that stretch. For the season Hairston is averaging 14.3 points and 4.2 rebounds, and 39 percent shooting from three.
McAdoo has battled through a back injury over the last two weeks, but junior forward Reggie Bullock has picked up the slack, averaging 14.3 points and 8.3 rebounds in the ACC tournament.
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Bullock, standing 6’7”, also has a 43.8 percent stroke from three, which may cause matchup troubles for the Wildcats.
Villanova forward JayVaughn Pinkston will be stretched guarding Bullock at the three-point line and leading his team in scoring. In Villanova’s 74-55 loss to Louisville in the Big East semifinals, Pinkston notched 21 points, and Mouphtaou Yarou totaled 13 points to go along with 11 rebounds.
The Wildcats were unfortunate to run into hard charging Louisville, and coughed up 24 turnovers while shooting 2-for-12 from the three-point line.
Sophomore guard Darrun Hilliard accounted for seven of those turnovers, finishing with seven points and three rebounds.
Nova will have to take better care of the ball if it hopes to win its first tournament game since 2010. Back in 2009, Villanova reached its fourth all-time Final Four.
The game tips-off at 7:20 p.m. Eastern and will be broadcast by TNT, or watch a free live online stream at the NCAA March Madness official site here.
Betting Odds: North Carolina is favored by 4.5 points.
Over/Under: 143 points
Prediction: How the Tar Heels fare along the 3-point line will determine their success. Villanova and Pinkston could dominate in the paint and on the boards, keeping this game very close. But Hairston and Bullock should lead UNC to a victory.
Predicted Score: North Carolina 75, Villanova 68