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Notre Dame v North Carolina

by Sharon Thorsland

All is right with world if you are a North Carolina fan. After a one year absence, the Tar Heels are back in their rightful place as March Madness begins, ready to compete for another national championship. That quest begins on Thursday, when the number one seeded Tar Heels take on 16-seed Wagner in Charlotte. So who is Wagner? The Seahawks finished sixth in the Northeast Conference at 14-15, but won the tournament for the automatic bid to the Big Dance for the first time in 21 years. They’re now 17-15 after knocking off Howard 71-68 in the First Four on Tuesday, in spite of blowing a 17-point second half lead. That was Wagner’s first NCAA Tournament win in school history. Tip-off is set for 2:45 Thursday on WBT.

Wagner is one of the slowest-paced offensive teams in the country and averages just 63.8 points per game, that’s 353rd in the nation. In other words, the Seahawks make Virginia look like an offensive juggernaut! Junior guard Melvin Council Jr. is their top player, he leads the team with nearly 15 points and six rebounds per game. Guard Tahron Allen has been hot down the stretch, averaging 12 points and 5.2 rebounds over the last 10 games, while Julian Brown had 15 points in the win over Howard. One matchup that should be quite interesting to watch is Seahawks big man Keyontae Lewis against Armando Bacot. Lewis is a few inches shorter than Bacot but weighs 255 pounds. He’ll no doubt try to use that bulk against Bacot like NC State’s DJ Burns did in the ACC title game.

The Seahawks might be inefficient offensively but they are really good on the defensive side of the ball, ranking 7th in the country allowing just 62 points a game. Of course they haven’t played a team like UNC yet, which is averaging over 81 points per game and features ACC Player of the Year RJ Davis. Wagner coach Donald Copeland knows that his team is up against. “They’re as good as you get in the country, they are a national title contender,” Copeland said Tuesday night. “We are going to have to play really, really good.”

This should be a lopsided affair in favor of North Carolina. The Tar Heels are coming off a disappointing loss to NC State in the ACC Championship game that snapped an 8-game win streak. They’ll be ready to take out their frustrations on Wagner in front of what should be a home crowd at the Spectrum Center, where the Heels are 16-2 since 2006. Look for UNC to easily advance to the second round. Go Tar Heels!