Final Four Preview: No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 10 Syracuse

(Robert Willett/The News & Observer via AP)
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WHEN: Saturday, April 2nd, 8:49 p.m. ET

MAJOR STORYLINES: So I don’t know if you’ve heard about this or not, but apparently both Syracuse and North Carolina are dealing with these NCAA investigations. Have you heard any mention of that at all? Has that been a ‘thing’?

The bigger story here — beyond the crazy things that wacky old Jim Boeheim likes to say at press conferences when he’s long past caring about what the media thinks — is whether or not this is the last time that we are going to see Roy Williams on a college basketball court. I’m not predicting that to be the case, but let me paint you a picture: He’s got vertigo, he’s got bad knees, he’s 64 years old and he’s coaching a program that will be down for a couple of years as the NCAA investigation into the academic scandal at UNC the last four years as crippled his recruiting. This may be the last time for a long time that the Tar Heels are good enough to win a national title. If they do win, would Ol’ Roy ride off into the sunset?

KEY MATCHUP: Those front courts. North Carolina’s is really, really good. Syracuse’s is … well, they’re not. These are the two stats that you need to know: North Carolina was the third-best offensive rebounding team in the country this season. There were only 14 teams in all of college basketball that were worse at getting defensive rebounds than Syracuse. How will that matchup play out?

X-FACTOR: Marcus Paige will be the difference maker here. The way that Syracuse was able to keep it close against North Carolina at the Dean Dome last month was that they packed their zone in tight and dared the Tar Heels to beat them over the top. If Paige — and, to a lesser extent, Joel Berry II and Justin Jackson — finds a way to knock down those threes the way he has in recent weeks, then the Tar Heels might be able to run away with this thing.

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POINT SPREAD: North Carolina -9.5

THREE THINGS TO WATCH FOR

  1. Brice Johnson had a career-high eight assists against Syracuse in the first meeting between these two teams, as he made a living getting the ball at the free throw line and finding Isaiah Hicks in front of the rim. The Orange had no answer. The way to beat this zone is to get the ball to the high post or the short corner, and Johnson is going to be the key there.
  2. How does Michael Gbinije perform in ball-screen actions against the Tar Heels? The Orange use a higher percentage of ball-screens than 90 percent of college basketball teams, and the Tar Heels are not great at defending them. Kennedy Meeks is not exactly fleet-of-foot while Brice Johnson struggles with lateral quickness. This becomes especially dangerous if …
  3. … Tyler Lydon and Malachi Richardson are hitting shots. Those two are the x-factors guys on this Syracuse team. Richardson is streaky, but when he’s cooking he can takeover a game. He did it against Virginia and sparked that 15-point comeback. Lydon’s ability to stretch the floor as Syracuse’s best shot blocker makes him dangerous and creates space for Gbinije in the paint.

CBT PREDICTION: Carolina wins. Carolina covers. Carolina gets 25 offensive rebounds.