By: Sharon Thorsland
It’s the most wonderful time of the year.
No, not Christmas, even though the temperatures might make it feel that way. It’s March Madness!
A record nine teams from the ACC are in the Big Dance, seven teams from the Carolinas are dancing, and my North Carolina Tar Heels earned a number one seed for the second straight season in the South Region. Duke enters the tournament as a two seed in the East, taking on Troy Friday night. UNC-Wilmington gets a 5-12 matchup with Virginia, while South Carolina lucked into a seven seed and faces Marquette in what amounts to a home game in Greenville. Wake Forest drew the short straw, getting a play-in game against Kansas State. But if the Demon Deacons win that one, they’ll face a beatable Cincinnati team. And how about Winthrop! The Eagles are back in the Big Dance for a date with one-time Cinderella Butler.
But let’s focus on my Tar Heels. They’ll start things off in Greensville, SC on Friday, taking on the Tigers of Texas Southern at 4:00. Of course, you can hear the game on WBT. The Tigers earned the SWAC’s automatic bid and finished the season 23-11 on a nine-game winning streak. But they’ll be no match for the Tar Heels (27-7), who have something to prove after exiting the ACC Tournament in a semi-final loss to Duke.
The Tigers are no slouch, they haven’t lost since February 13th. They average over 74 points a game, led by junior guard and SWAC Player of the Year Zach Lofton (17 points, 2.5 assists per game). Playing against top notch competition is nothing new to the Tigers, they played a tough non-conference schedule, taking on Arizona, Louisville and Baylor. They’ve got tournament experience, making it to the Big Dance in three of the last four seasons, and coach Mike Davis once coached Indiana to a national championship appearance.
But that won’t help the Tigers become the first 16 seed to upset a number one seed - led by ACC Player of the Year Justin Jackson, the Heels just have too much firepower for the Tigers, not to mention the fact that they lead the nation in rebounding. The Heels get this one done and advance to take on the winner of the Seton Hall-Arkansas game. Both are formidable opponents, although the Razorbacks look to pose a bigger threat to keep the Heels from the Sweet 16. Neither team has as much talent as UNC, though, and the Heels have the added motivation of making it back to the title game to avenge last year’s loss to Villanova. At this time next week UNC should be in the round of 16. Go Heels!