North Carolina is the Only Team Capable of Challenging Kentucky



North Carolina’s success this season can be attributed to Marcus Paige. (Courtesy of Robert Willett/Raleigh News & Observer via TNS)


With a win over the Florida Gators on March 7, the Kentucky Wildcats finished the regular season an uncontested 31-0. The Wildcats are the consensus number one team in the country, with the University of North Carolina and Duke vying for second place. On March 21, UNC defeated the Arkansas Razorbacks 87-78 to advance the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament. The Tar Heels are playing better than they have all season due to the dominance of junior Marcus Paige, arguably the best point guard in the nation. Finishing second in the ACC tournament, UNC will be looking to return to the Final Four for the first time since the 2009 season when they won the title over Michigan State.

The win over Arkansas gave Head Coach Roy Williams his 750th career win, becoming only the 15th coach in Division I history to accomplish the feat. It was also his 32nd NCAA tournament victory, which ties the most in North Carolina’s history. He has already won two March Madness titles in 2005 and 2009. This season, Williams orchestrated the Tar Heels’ 17th ranked scoring offense, averaging almost 78 points per game.

The North Carolina offense also finished second in both rebounds and assists per game. The dominant attack provides the perfect antithesis to Kentucky’s defense that is only allowing 53.9 points per game. If any team is going to beat the undefeated Wildcats, it will be one fueled by a strong offense that can spread the ball across the court. UNC’s depth will also play a critical role as the team advances further into the tournament. Williams often utilizes his entire bench throughout games, usually giving eight or nine players significant time on the court.

North Carolina’s success this season can be attributed to the play of Marcus Paige. Named to the All-ACC third team, the junior point guard is finally living up to preseason expectations. Paige scored a team-high 22 points in the win over Arkansas and has been steadily improving since his foot injury earlier this season. He’s averaging 13.3 points per game and has played a pivotal role in many of UNC’s close games this season, including shooting a game-winning shot against Louisville.

Outside of Paige, Kennedy Meeks was the most improved player on the Tar Heels roster, especially on defense. The 6-foot 9-inch sophomore forward averaged 7.4 rebounds per game this season while adding an average of 11.6 points per game on offense. However, he sprained his knee in the win over Arkansas and his availability for the round of 16 is still up in the air. Junior forward Brice Johnson should be able to fill Meeks’ role if he is unavailable. Johnson has averaged 12.9 points and 7.9 rebounds per game this season.

While both North Carolina and Duke are formidable teams, the Tar Heels are clearly built to unseat Kentucky as the number one team in the country. UNC will meet either top-seeded Wisconsin or eighth-ranked Oregon in the round of 16 on Thursday, March 26. Hall of Fame Head Coach Roy Williams is looking to win his third NCAA title with the Tar Heels. Marcus Paige should be able to carry North Carolina past the round of 16 and to an eventual matchup with the Kentucky Wildcats.