North Carolina (29-6) vs. Providence (24-10)
Raleigh, N.C. – PNC Arena
Saturday, approx. 9:40 p.m.
TBS (Kevin Harlan, Reggie Miller, Dan Bonner, Lewis Johnson)
"Great team, well-coached, incredibly balanced, athletic and long. That's the reason why they're a No. 1 seed. They've earned it and we're excited about the challenge, and see what we can do in order to try to advance." - Providence head coach Ed Cooley
"He's an explosive point guard. What really sticks out is his defense and length. He's got really long arms and uses his quickness to get a lot of steals. He's going to be a problem for us but we'll throw different guys at him and try to contain him and keep him out of the lane." -- UNC guard Marcus Paige on Providence guard Kris Dunn
"Got to try to guard them and hope they don't shoot a real high percentage, get 40 or something crazy like that. But you can't just focus on them because those other three guys, you know, shoot threes and do some effective things as well." - UNC head coach Roy Williams on Dunn and Friars forward Ben Bentil
Season to Date: Providence enters Saturday’s contest with a 24-10 record. The Friars entered the New Year with a 14-1 record and a top-10 national ranking before dropping eight of their next 13 games. Head coach Ed Cooley steadied his team down the stretch, winning five of its last six contests.
How Providence Got Here: A Rodney Bullock lay-up with 1.5 seconds left propelled the Friars past the USC Trojans, 70-69, in the Thursday nightcap in Raleigh. Providence rallied back from a five-point deficit with just over two minutes to play despite a dismal 40.2 percent shooting night and foul trouble plaguing star point guard Kris Dunn (16 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists) for most of the game. The Friars entered the tournament as an at-large bid after finishing fourth place in the Big East.
Well Dunn: Junior point guard Kris Dunn was named the Big East Player of the Year and an All-American by Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, ESPN, USA Today and the USBWA. Dunn averages 16 points, 6.3 assists, 5.4 rebounds and a Big East-leading 2.5 steals per game, stuffing stat sheets while establishing himself as one of the best defensive players in the country. His combination of length and court vision allows him to make difficult passes while stifling guards on the other end of the floor. He does all of this while shooting a nifty 44.2 percent from the field, making him a threat in virtually every aspect of the game.
Bent on Destruction: Sophomore center Ben Bentil leads the Friars in scoring and rebounding with 21.1 points and 7.8 boards per game. He earned the Big East’s Most Improved Player award this season, making nearly a 15-point-per-game leap in production between his first and second seasons. He’s also a finalist for the Kareem-Abdul Jabbar Award, which honors the best center in the nation. The big man from Wilmington, Del., has reached the 20-point mark in 20 games this season, and has scored 30 or more points in six contests. Bentil led the team in scoring once again in Thursday’s win over the Trojans with 19 points and 9 rebounds.
Rebounding A Major Key: While Florida Gulf Coast came into Thursday’s game against North Carolina as a team that could challenge the Tar Heels on the boards, Providence presents a favorable match-up for UNC on the glass. The Friars averaged 36.4 rebounds per game this season with a rebounding margin of -0.4, while Carolina averaged 41 boards per game with a +8.0 margin. The Friars will need to hang with the Tar Heels on the glass if recent history is any indicator of success; Providence is 5-8 in games in which the opponent grabbed more rebounds.
Defense Ready: KenPom.com ranks the Friars as the 29th most efficient defense in the country this season, giving up just 95.9 points per 100 possessions. This is in large part due to Dunn, a National Defensive Player of the Year candidate, but the entire team as a whole has proven capable of defending inside and out. This defense correlates to the team’s success: the Friars are 22-10 when holding teams to less than 70 points and 7-12 when opponents eclipse the 70-point mark.
Madness Abounds: If a team was built for the frantic, heart-racing, exhilarating roller coaster that is March Madness, it’s this bunch of Friars. Providence is 9-1 this season in games decided by four points or less. Providence has won two games at the buzzer (Bentil tipped the winner in at Rhode Island and Dunn nailed a jumper at Creighton), and came very close to doing the same against USC on Thursday, settling instead for a game-winning basket with 1.5 seconds remaining. Providence has thrived in clutch situations all season, and will be more than comfortable if it comes down to the wire against UNC.
Last Meeting: The Tar Heels held off the Friars, 79-77, in NCAA Tournament’s first round on March 21, 2014, in San Antonio. James Michael McAdoo (16 points, 10 rebounds) made two free throws in the final 3.5 seconds to secure the victory. Marcus Paige led UNC with 19 points and Brice Johnson added 16 points, eight rebounds and four blocks. Providence’s Bryce Cotton led all scorers with a career-high 36 points.
Series History: UNC leads the all-time series, 3-1.
00 Ben Bentil (6-9, 235, So.) – 21.1 ppg, 7.8 rpg
3 Kris Dunn (6-4, 220, Jr.) - 16.0 ppg, 5.4 rpg
5 Rodney Bullock (6-8, 225, So.) - 11.7 ppg, 6.9 rpg
21 Jalen Lindsey (6-7, 210, So.) – 7.2 ppg, 4.4 rpg
32 Junior Lomomba (6-5, 205, Jr.) - 5.4 ppg, 2.5 rpg
24 Kyron Cartwright (6-0, 185, So.) – 5.8 ppg, 2.2 rpg
25 Drew Edwards (6-3, 185, Fr.) - 2.4 ppg, 1.6 rpg