KANSAS CITY, MO (WSFA) - Two of the fastest teams in college basketball will hit the court this Friday in what could potentially be one of the most memorable Sweet 16 games in recent memory. No. 5 seed Auburn and No. 1 seed North Carolina link up in what could be a high-scoring affair.
For starters, they’re two teams who love to get out in transition and get up shots. Entering into Friday’s game, Auburn leads the country with 421 three-point field goals. North Carolina enters with 305.
“So 305 is not quite as impressive as it was,” North Carolina Men’s Basketball head coach Roy Williams said about Auburn’s 421 three-point field goals. “They’re probably the hottest team in the country right now and shooting the ball in the basket, making threes.”
Part of the success of Auburn’s current 10-game winning streak can be attributed to its three-point shooting. On the season, the Tigers have shot 37.6 percent from downtown, ranking just outside the top 30 in all of college basketball.
North Carolina shoots and makes threes at a 36.5 percent clip.
The key to slowing down Auburn will be good perimeter defense, and the Tar Heels possess the ability to slow down Auburn’s lethal potential.
“Kenny Williams is an elite defender, so he’s either going to have Jared [Harper] or Bryce [Brown],” said Auburn Men’s Basketball head coach Bruce Pearl of UNC’s Kenny Williams. “He can’t guard both, but he’ll have one of them. Great length. He does a great job of taking charges. They will contest shots. That’s one of the things they do great defensively because of they’re length.”
Williams is listed at 6-foot-4, tall enough to guard shooting threats like Auburn’s dynamic duo in Harper and Brown. But it’s just as Pearl said, Williams can only guard one at a time.
Brown leads the Tigers in scoring at 15.9 points per game, and Harper follows closely behind at 15.3 points per contest. Brown enters Friday evening shooting 40.8 percent from beyond the arc, Harper at 37.9 percent.
“I think picking up perimeter guys is something that you’re going to be mixed up,” said Roy Williams. "And you’ve got to know something about the one man, two man, three man. You’ve got to know the trends, what they like to do, their strengths and their weaknesses.
Coach Williams also said in a fast-paced game, the matchups change and every man won’t always fall on their designated guy, which could favor Auburn.
While North Carolina’s 86 points per game as a team ranks third in the NCAA, they allow 72.5 points. Auburn only allows 68.7 points per game, so it’ll be a test to see which team’s defense can hold its own.
When assessing Auburn’s challenges defensively, it starts with the leader of UNC’s fast-break offence - freshman 6-foot-5 guard Coby White.
“He’s long, athletic, about as fast as anybody. Lamar Peters from Mississippi State is probably the fastest guy we’ve seen, but he’s 5’10. This kid is 6’4 or 6’5 and that fast," said Pearl. "That’s the key to North Carolina’s break. They just get it down there make or miss. We’ve got to get back in transition and do something to our transition defense to get back and try to duplicate the speed in which they push it.”
From there, the ball can go to one of many places. White (16.1 ppg) can score it himself from both inside and out, or it can go to Tar Heel leading scorer Cameron Johnson (16.9 ppg), 6-8 big man Luke Maye (14.9 ppg) or out to Kenny Williams for a spot-up three.
Not only does may put the ball in the hoop effectively, but he works the glass as well. He averages 10.6 rebounds to lead all Carolina players, but Pearl is confident they have an answer.
“He’s a tough matchup for anybody, but we have one of the best defensive forwards in the college basketball – Chuma Okeke,” said Pearl. “There will be times kind of like when [Dedric] Lawson played the four, where Chuma will be able to guard him. I’m certain they’re going to go right at Chuma to try and get him into foul trouble. Luke [Maye] goes to the foul line a ton. I’m sure they’re going to try and attack Chuma.”
Outside of their starting five, the Tar Heels have a guy who can come off the bench who can put up 20 points in Nasir Little. Little scored 20 points in UNC’s win over Washington last weekend, which is the most points by a UNC bench player since 2005.
Auburn squeaked by in their opening round win against New Mexico State, before taking national powerhouse Kansas to the woodshed in the second round.
Bruce Pearl’s squad will look to hand Roy Williams just his second loss in 10 tries in the Sweet 16 as UNC’s head coach.
The Tigers and Tar Heels will tip things off Friday at 6:29 p.m. That game will be televised on TBS.