UNC vs. Auburn: Sweet 16 Matchup Evaluation

After closing the regular season with confidence, it is safe to say the University of North Carolina basketball team has their championship mojo back. With two victories in the bag and a scary path ahead, a combination of nerves and excitement flow throughout Chapel Hill, NC.

Here’s an analysis of UNC’s games so far and what’s to come against 5-seed Auburn University on Friday, March 28th at 7:29 p.m. (EST).

Round of 64 vs. No. 16 Iona College (88–73)

The first half of March Madness quickly turned into a red scare as Iona began to rain threes from beyond the arc while Luke Maye’s off-touch shots created a terrifying five-point trail for UNC to fix come half-time.

By the end of the game, domination on the boards and the physicality of Nasir Little allowed UNC to pull away in the second half. But still, behind Iona guard Rickey McGill, who shot 7-for-9 from behind the arc, Iona surprised viewers and in doing so exposed what I see as UNC’s greatest weakness: defending threes.

Round of 32 vs No. 9 University of Washington (81–59)

After getting their first taste of the tournament, the Heels looked much more comfortable against Washington. Apart from Coby White’s continuous ability to splash, the Tar Heels had no problem sharing the ball to break the Huskies zone which gave way for Cam Johnson, Nasir, and Maye to knock down open threes.

No. 5 seed Auburn

Round of 64 vs. No. 12 New Mexico State University (78-77)

Auburn entered the tournament on a hot streak as they pulled off a 20 point win over Tennessee to top off their SEC championship run. A team which heavily relies on guard play has become even better with significant contributions from forward Chuma Okeke, who has now contributed double digits in their last three games.

In their first outing in the tournament against New Mexico State, Auburn came as close to elimination as it gets.

With lots of questions to ask about the Aggies and their failure to close out the game, their one point loss against the Tigers is still an impressive one. This was largely due to Auburn’s struggle to play defense allowing New Mexico State to shoot an impressive 49% from the field and dominating the boards.

At the end of the day, luck is the key component when it comes to basketball in March and Auburn had plenty of it in their first win.

Round of 32 vs. No. 4 Kansas (88-73)

On the other hand, against Kansas, Auburn looked fierce. The two guards: Bryce Brown and Jared Harper caught fire and combined for 43 points. They came out showing no clear weaknesses as they forced a lot of turnovers resulting in a dominating win. In the first half, they succeeded to build a 26 point lead and they kept their lead in double digits the entire game.

Sweet Sixteen Preview:  North Carolina vs Auburn at the Sprint Center in Kansas City

Expect this game to flow based on Auburn’s ability to shoot the three-ball.

North Carolina’s physicality should be the clear favorite here. In a matchup where UNC will likely dominate the paint and have a rebound margin above 10, if Auburn’s guards can’t catch fire from three they will not have a solution to keep up with the Heels.

One concern is Nasir Little’s health (flu). Without him, the Heels will be forced to find more ways to score in the paint as Little is averaging 19.5 points in the tournament so far.

That being said, I am still terrified of Auburn from three-point range. In March Madness so far, Auburn has shot 41 percent from three, and taken an average of 30.5 three-pointers per game. As UNC has struggled to defend shots beyond the perimeter, this could be a recipe for disaster.

This will be a true test of “live by the three, die by the three” as Auburn’s three point shooting could either make this game interesting or turn it into a blowout.

Additionally, Auburn’s fast paced team will be matched by UNC’s transition and but if they can dominate the turnover margin like they did against Kansas, this will cause more problems for the Tar Heels.

The key to March Madness is taking one game at a time, but I still see UNC advancing to the Elite Eight. Tune in for further matchups as we pray for another UNC championship and a third rush of Franklin Street this year.

A little superstition?

As it turns out, in all three of UNC’s championships under Roy Williams (2005, 2009, and 2017) UNC lost in the semifinals and Duke University won the ACC tournament. So, will history repeat itself?

-Alex Jaramillo

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