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NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament - Second Round - Charlotte

by Sharon Thorsland

Top seed North Carolina will take on Alabama on Thursday night in the Sweet 16. The Tar Heels (29-7) advanced after an impressive win over Michigan State on Saturday, while the Crimson Tide (23-11) notched wins over 13-seed Charleston and 12-seed Grand Canyon to advance. This looks to be a high-scoring affair as both teams feature impressive offenses. Tip-off is set for approximately 9:30 on WBT.

While the Tar Heels are known for their high-octane offense, Alabama runs even faster. The Crimson Tide boasts the country’s highest scoring offense, averaging nearly 91 points per game, led by star guard Mark Sears. If that name sounds familiar it’s because he scored 24 points in the Tide’s quadruple-overtime win over UNC last season, including seven 3-pointers. Sears is the go-to guy in ‘Bama’s offense, averaging 21.5 points per game. Guard Aaron Estrada chips in 13 a contest and also leads the team in rebounds and assists. Rylen Griffen completes the Tide’s talented guard trio. Alabama basically lives and dies by the 3 – nearly half of their shots are from deep, ranking them in the top five in the nation. Sears shoots a remarkable 43.5% from behind the arc, and the team as a whole knocks down 36.5 percent. The Tar Heels counter with RJ Davis, who is averaging over 21 points per game, and Cormac Ryan is likely giving the Tide nightmares – the grad transfer had 29 points (including seven 3’s) and helped Notre Dame knock Alabama out of the 2022 NCAA Tournament.

As good as their offense is, the Tide’s defense is at the other end of the spectrum. They rank 348th in the nation in scoring defense, giving up nearly 81 points per game, and allow teams to shoot over 44%. They’re facing a UNC team that averages nearly 82 points a contest. UNC also boasts an elite defense and is an excellent rebounding team – that should be the difference in this game.

These teams have faced each other 13 times before, with UNC holding an 8-5 record in the series, including 2-1 in the NCAA Tournament. ‘Bama won the last meeting, though, that 103-101 quadruple-overtime marathon last season. UNC is no doubt looking to avenge that loss and move on to the Elite 8 at the same time. They have the firepower to do it, and I don’t see the Crimson Tide slowing them down. Go Tar Heels!