UNC, Duke, Miami Look to Advance

Miami hopes to extend Illinois's losing streak against ACC teams in the NCAA Tournament, dating back to 1984.
Miami hopes to extend Illinois’s losing streak against ACC teams in the NCAA Tournament, dating back to 1984.

#1 Kansas vs. #8 North Carolina
5:15 PM, CBS

Amazingly enough, this will make only the eleventh meeting between Kansas and North Carolina in the history of the two programs. The first meeting was the 1957 NCAA Championship, in which the Tar Heels defeated the Jayhawks in triple overtime in Kansas City. Maybe a trip to KC is just what Roy Williams needed for his first win against his former team. Just try not to laugh if he sends Marcus Paige to take the opening tip against Jeff Withey, the way 5’11” Tommy Kearns met Wilt Chamberlain for the jump ball in that 1957 title game.

Kansas will present a stout defensive test for the Tar Heels. The Jayhawks lead the nation in two-point field goal percentage defense (39 percent), thanks in no small part to Withey’s shot-blocking (3.8 per game, third-best in the nation). James Michael McAdoo has settled for poor shots at times during the season, and a couple of Withey blocks may be just the thing that takes McAdoo out of his comfort zone early.

North Carolina’s best shot (obviously, considering both their strengths and their opponent) will be to get hot from beyond the arc. Kansas has allowed more three-pointers than any other team in the Big 12. Part of that, of course, is due to teams either falling behind the dominant Jayhawks or settling for three-pointers because it’s harder for Withey to block those. However, some teams have found success against Kansas by knocking down several three-pointers. Iowa State took Kansas to overtime in Ames with 17-of-41 from distance, and Baylor was 6-of-12 in a blowout win against the Jayhawks. It can be done, and North Carolina may be just the right mold of team to pull it off.

#2 Miami vs. #7 Illinois
8:40 PM, TNT

While we’re in the business of throwing numbers of historic (and little other) significance around: Illinois has lost the last five NCAA Tournament games it has played against ACC teams (Virginia Tech in 2007, North Carolina in 2005, Duke in 2004, Maryland in 1998, and Georgia Tech in 1985). When Illinois last defeated an ACC school in the NCAA Tournament (Maryland, 1984), Miami was in the process of ending a 14-year hiatus from playing basketball, period.

The Illini aren’t a particularly strong offensive team, shooting 41.3 percent from the floor (257th in the nation). However, they do a good job of limiting turnovers, which buys them possessions, and points, in their typically low-scoring games.

The Hurricanes will have the edge in several fronts in this contest. Frankly, they are bigger, and better on both offense and defense. The “lack of NCAA Tournament experience” angle doesn’t even hurt Miami in this matchup, as Illinois has only been to the dance once in the past four seasons (losing in the round of 32 to Kansas in 2011). If there is a possible weakness for the Hurricanes, it is their free throw shooting. Miami converts on 68.3 percent of their free-throw attempts, 212th in the nation. It will likely be a defensive struggle, which might keep Illinois within shouting range all game. If Miami isn’t making free throws, it could provide an opportunity for the Illini to sneak out with a win.

#2 Duke vs. #7 Creighton
9:40 PM, TBS

Two high-powered offenses will meet late Sunday night, as Duke and Creighton will meet for a Sweet Sixteen berth.

Doug McDermott, the second-leading scorer in the nation, is a 49.7 three-point shooter. However, the Blue Devils won’t have the luxury of keying on McDermott defensively, as the Bluejays also have Austin Chapman and Ethan Wragge shooting three-pointers at a better than 43 percent rate, as well as senior center Gregory Echenique making 66.0 percent of his field goals. This will be a challenge for the Duke defense.

Of course, Creighton will also have to try and guard the Blue Devils. Ryan Kelly will present a mismatch for the Bluejays, and Duke has plenty of three-point shooters of their own (and Mason Plumlee to match Echenique in the paint, even if he lacks Echenique’s awesome rec specs). This could come down to which team can get a couple of stops defensively to swing momentum and the score into their favor late in the game.

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