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North Carolina v Wagner

by Sharon Thorsland

Top seed North Carolina is into the second round of the NCAA Tournament after dispatching Wagner by 28 points on Thursday. Now the Tar Heels (28-7) will face 9th seed Michigan State with a berth in the Sweet 16 on the line. The Spartans are coming off a blowout of Mississippi State that improved them to 20-14 on the year, and are playing solid basketball right now. We all know Tom Izzo’s squads have historically been great in March, so this has the makings of a very good game. Tip-off is set for 5:30 Saturday on WBT.

Michigan State started the season ranked #4 in the AP poll but faded away thanks to an inconsistent offense. The Spartans average just 71 points per game, that’s 191st in the country. They have three senior starters, led by star guard Tyson Walker. He’s an elite player who is the Spartan’s version of RJ Davis, averaging over 18 points per game and nearly 38% from three. Walker’s not the only one who can hit it from outside, either ā€“ the Spartans are one of the best three-point shooting teams in the country as guard Jaden Akins (35%) and Tre Holloman (42.5%) are also sharp-shooters. They’ll challenge the UNC defense that has been solid all season. AJ Hoggard is another talented senior guard for the Spartans, averaging 11 points a game. Senior Malik Hall leads the team with 5.6 rebounds per game, and Mady Sissoko has been big off the bench recently, he grabbed nine boards against Mississippi State.

The Spartans do play play excellent defense, ranking 19th in the nation giving up just 65.5 points a contest. But they’ll face a UNC team that puts up 81 points a game and has plenty of offensive firepower, starting with Davis. And big man Armando Bacot plays his best basketball in the tournament, he’s had six straight games of at least 15 rebounds. If Harrison Ingram and Cormac Ryan get hot from outside, Bacot should have a field day in the paint.

These teams have faced each other 16 times before, with UNC holding a 12-4 record in the series. That includes a stellar 5-0 mark in the NCAA Tournament, including their most recent matchup in the 2009 national championship game, an 89-72 win. This certainly has the makings of a good game, but the Spectrum Center will once again be mostly Carolina blue, and the Tar Heels are 35-2 in the state of North Carolina in NCAA tourney games. Look for UNC to win and punch its ticket to the Sweet 16. Go Tar Heels!