GLENDALE, Ariz. — The basketball gods owe North Carolina.
OK, that’s not exactly true. It’s not as if the Tar Heels were left with a bare résumé after Villanova snatched the title from their hands in the closing seconds last year. But as anyone who has ever come up just short of any goal knows, getting that close is soul crushing and makes you that much more determined to succeed the next time around.
Which is why it’s going to be incredibly tough for anyone to beat North Carolina.
The Tar Heels have arguably the toughest individual matchup left in Justin Jackson, who can hurt you from anywhere on the court. The ACC player of the year is averaging 19.8 points and 6.3 rebounds in the tournament, but the more important numbers are 46.8 and 40.7. That’s his shooting percentage from the floor and from three-point range.
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Then you have Kennedy Meeks, who is averaging a double-double in the tournament, and point guard Joel Berry II, who has managed to be effective despite playing on two sprained ankles. And don’t forget Luke Maye, who has emerged as the breakout star of the tournament with his first career double-double against Butler and the last-minute shot to beat Kentucky and reach the Final Four.
Yes, Oregon will prevent a tough test because of their speed and size. But the Tar Heels’ win against Kentucky showed they can run with the best of them, and the front line of Meeks and Isaiah Hicks can hold their own against anyone.
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Berry’s mobility will be worth watching, too. No offense to Nate Britt, but Berry’s court vision and his willingness to take contact around the basket are a vital part of North Carolina’s offense.
But what makes North Carolina so daunting is the Tar Heels’ unfinished business. They have been pointing to these next two games since the final buzzer sounded on last year’s title game. Just check out the title of their group text: Redemption.
Experience matters at this time of year. And North Carolina is determined to make this year’s different than last.