Beach's Bits - Five Keys to UNC

After escaping with a less than uninspired second-round victory against 10th-seeded Georgia Friday night, the Huskies prepare to face off against one of the NCAA's iconic programs, the No. 2-seed North Carolina Tar Heels, who muddled their way to a 102-87 win over 15th-seed Long Island University.

In facing the Tar Heels, the Huskies face a system not unlike their own - blazing in transition and able to score in bunches while emphasizing rebounding at both ends of the floor.

North Carolina is one of the few teams in the country that can match up with the Huskies athletically. They've also got a glaring advantage in the front court with John Henson and Tyler Zeller patrolling the paint. Make no mistake, this isn't a neutral court in any way shape or form, and Carolina blue will blanket Time Warner Cable Arena come Sunday morning. The 12:15 p.m. EST tip-off means the Huskies are essentially playing a morning game. Being in Charlotte, NC since Tuesday should help in this regard, but the NCAA sure hasn't done UW any favors.

Nonetheless, Washington has the edge in of couple of important areas, though none of it will matter if they play anything like they did against Georgia. It wasn't a terrible game, but it certainly wasn't a reflection of Washington at its best, either. They were efficient with the basketball against the Bulldogs, their defense was inspired and Isaiah Thomas ran the team like a seasoned pro. They forced 14 turnovers while surrendering just five, and they even hit their free throws. Not a bad effort by any stretch. But for a team that is so reliant on the three-pointer to generate offense, they shot the ball horribly, which is the primary reason the offense sputtered.

The Huskies don't have a prayer against UNC is they shoot like they did Friday. Here are some keys to the game:

1) Get physical and maximize pressure.

The Huskies will face a daunting challenge slowing down UNC freshman point guard Kendall Marshall. The 6-foot-3 floor general developed into one of the headiest guards in the ACC over the course of the regular season. He used his fabulous floor vision to dish out over eight assists a game since taking over for Larry Drew, who transferred out of the program early in conference play. Similar to UW counterpart Abdul Gaddy, Marshall is cagey and intelligent, possessing deceptive quickness for a player his size, and he utilizes his splendid court vision to identify secondary defenders and create in the lane.

His ability to connect on court-length passes means the Huskies must retain their focus constantly on transition defense. Like most of North Carolina's lineup, Marshall isn't a great shooter, making 16 of 43 three-pointers on the year. He's enough of a long range threat to keep defenders honest, but that's about it. Like most freshmen however, he has a green body and can be intimidated by physical play. He wilted a bit during the ACC tournament after both Clemson and Duke increased their ball pressure, surrendering 10 turnovers versus 13 assists on 5-21 shooting in those ball games.

Speaking of green, North Carolina is extremely young, starting two freshmen, two sophomores and a junior. In fact the only returning NCAA Tournament experience they have is in Tyler Zeller and Justin Watts, who have played a combined 50 total minutes in the big dance. Nerves could become a factor, especially if the Huskies can go on one of their devastating scoring binges. It helps UNC immensely that they're essentially playing a home game, though the crowd noise didn't seem to be a factor during the Long Island game. Another factor that could play into UW's hands is that the crowd from Duke that will be at the Time Warner Cable Arena certainly won't be rooting for the Tar Heels, so the Huskies should pick up some help there.

Washington plays some of the most physical pressure defense in the country, and they possess a ton of guard depth. They need to use all of those bodies to beat up UNC. North Carolina isn't a great free throw shooting team, shooting 66 percent on the season, same as Washington. They have to amp up the pressure and physically intimidate the backcourt so the ball never gets to the paint.

Up front, the Tar Heels are ridiculously long. You can't help but marvel at their length. Both Tyler Zeller and John Henson are marvelous players and highly skilled, but they aren't body-builders. They wont bully the Huskies the way they did against LIU.

2) Vary the tempo.

This game has the potential to be one of the highest-scoring, most entertaining games in the entire tournament. Like Washington, North Carolina likes to play fast, and while they don't score at the pace the Huskies do, they're still one of the best transition teams in the country. Few players can match Washington's quickness stride for stride, but Carolina can. Dexter Strickland plays a lot like Venoy Overton, and has the quickness to match. Both Henson and Zeller run the floor every bit as aggressively as Washington's bigs do, and like the Huskies when they get in a rhythm they can light up the scoreboard in the blink of an eye. That's where the danger lies for UW.

Because the two systems are so similar, the same high octane fuel that feeds Washington also fuels North Carolina. The Huskies need to recognize when the Heels are in a groove, and slow things down accordingly. Because both teams will be able to play at the pace they're most comfortable at, watch for constant scoring runs and momentum swings. It'll be the team that manages those runs the best that will carry the day.

3) Forget about man-to-man defense for a day.

If the Tar Heels have an Achilles heel, it's the zone. As a team, they're mediocre from three shooting 33 percent as a team. Leslie McDonald is their best shooter, connecting on 40 percent of his 121 three point attempts while Freshman Harrison Barnes leads the team in attempts this season with 162. When allowed to heat up, Barnes can be deadly, but he also tends to disappear for stretches. The Tar Heels attack the zone by feeding Henson and Zeller while Barnes and his backcourt mates take defenders off the dribble probing for open space in the lane. Both Carolina posts possess exceptional midrange skills. Henson possesses a solid mid range jumper and is an effective passer out of the high post and while Zeller utilizes a lovely baby hook and can score in a multitude of ways. A huge challenge for Washington will be boxing out and keeping UNC's stellar rebounders off of the offensive glass. The UNC posts are solid passers out of the block, and the Huskies will do everything possible to encourage them to relinquish the ball back to the perimeter. Pack the paint, forcing North Carolina to win it from outside.

4) Rebound the basketball.

Statically-speaking, North Carolina is the best rebounding team in the country. Their entire lineup is tall and they crash the boards relentlessly. Not only do the Washington bigs have to contend with Zeller and Henson, who average 10 and 7 rebounds respectively, but they've got to keep the 6-foot-8 Harrison Barnes off the glass too. Because it's expected UW will spend considerable time in a zone, it's extra-critical the Huskies identity and box out Carolina's rebounders. Georgia out-rebounded the Huskies by six, and they don't rebound as well as Carolina does. Washington must do everything they can to minimize UNC's huge advantage in this area, especially on the offensive boards.

5) Find their range.

Most importantly, the Huskies need to hit their shots. They are going to be open. The Tar Heels' perimeter defense isn't anything to write home about, so the Huskies are going to get their share of open looks. Between C.J. Wilcox, Terrence Ross, and Scott Suggs, the Huskies have three shooters who are capable of getting white hot and taking over games, and that's not even talking about Thomas, or others - like Venoy Overton, Darnell Gant and Justin Holiday, who can get streaky from deep.

With Wilcox, Ross, and Suggs standing 6-foot-6, they're taller than the Tarheel defenders and they're infinitely more effective when more than one of them is raining threes on the floor at the same time. This game is going to be played at a torrid pace, where the Huskies should be at their best. When Washington was in a groove earlier in the season, consistently scoring in triple-digits, it was at a pace similar to what we should see against UNC. The three-pointer was a huge part of that equation.
Prediction:

Nobody knows whether the UW shooters are going to show up or not. If there was ever game that seemed ideal for Washington to really settle into a groove, set the tempo and get comfortable, this is the one. They've got a huge edge with an experienced rotation, but the Tar Heels' home state advantage could be the equalizer. How do you make a prediction when two different entirely different Husky teams could show up? The NCAA Tournament is all about match-ups, and in a lot of ways this is a good one for Washington.

To put it simply, if the Husky shooters are connecting from outside, you've got to like their chances of making a game out of it. No team has kept up with Washington when they're hitting, and North Carolina doesn't have the shooters to keep up, either. If they aren't making their outside shots…it's going be a very long game.


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