North Carolina (24-9, 12-6 ACC) Seed: 8-seed in South region RPI: 18 Coach: Roy Williams, 25th season, 22 NCAA appearances Last NCAA Tournament appearance: Lost to Kansas in regional finals (2012) Notable wins: UNLV, N.C State, Virginia
There’s little question the insertion of P.J. Hairston into the Tar Heels’ starting lineup turned the season around in Chapel Hill. Since entering the starting rotation, the 6-foot-6 versatile scorer has scored 16.7 points per game, including a romp through the ACC tournament in which he nearly took home tourney MVP honors, despite playing with a heavily bandaged left hand. When Hairston is on, especially from beyond the arc, North Carolina can hang around with most teams. X-Factor
In all but one of North Carolina’s 10 losses — a 24-point drubbing at the hands of 1-seed Indiana that was never close — the opposing point guard has gotten the better of freshman Marcus Paige. That may be simplifying a complex matter, but the Tar Heels have some firepower when Paige (8.0 points, 4.7 assists per game) is running Roy Williams’ offense efficiently. Paige will be tested early on against Villanova and (potentially) Kansas, so it’ll be interesting to watch his growth on a bigger stage. First Opponent
Villanova is a little more efficient on the defensive end (24th nationally), but it will be tested by a rejuvenated Tar Heels’ offense, one even more reliant on the outside shooting of guards Hairston and Reggie Bullock. North Carolina will want to quicken the pace of the game, as usual, under Williams — the Tar Heels are much more efficient at scoring the ball — so the tempo Villanova sets could be an intriguing part of this 8-9 matchup.
Do you remember …
…The last time North Carolina met Villanova in the tournament? You won’t have to think too far back. In a 2009 Final Four matchup, the quick-hitting Wildcats led by Scottie Reynolds, Corey Fisher, Reggie Reynolds and Dante Cunningham were overmatched by the eventual national champs: Ty Lawson & Co.