Sunday, March 25, 2007

North Carolina vs. Georgetown Preview

25 years ago, the Michael Jordan legend was born. His jumper that gave North Carolina the 1982 title over Georgetown will be forever remembered. Will any additional memories be made in East Rutherford this Sunday, when the two teams match-up again? Let’s hope so.

North Carolina, the #1 seed, has struggled in every game so far in the Tournament, but their second-half play down the stretch has been nothing short of remarkable. In the opening round, the 16th-seeded Eastern Kentucky Colonels were within four points early in the second half, but the Tar Heels pulled away for an easy win. Against Michigan State, North Carolina was in a dogfight, but they made plays down the stretch for another double-digit win. Their Sweet Sixteen battle against USC demonstrated their depth better than anything. They were down by as many as 16, but UNC eventually wore down the Trojans for the W. They need a better start against Georgetown.

Georgetown, like North Carolina, has had struggles in the first three rounds, but their play late in games has been the difference. Belmont jumped out to an early lead on the Hoyas in the first round, but Georgetown dominated the second half en route to an easy win. In the second round against Boston College, it was a back-and-forth contest for much of the game before the big men for Georgetown took over late in the battle. Vanderbilt was up big early on in the Sweet Sixteen, but the Hoyas chipped away and put themselves in position to win. Down one with the clock winding down, Jeff Green hit a shot to give the Hoyas to win. Every team needs a miracle play to win the National Championship; will Green’s leaner—and travel—to beat Vandy be the one?

North Carolina was one of the favorites to reach Atlanta heading into the season, but they have been inconsistent for the most part—especially late in the ACC season. However, they won the ACC Tournament with relative ease, and have been very solid in the second halves in the NCAA Tournament. They need to put together an entire game, though. UNC loves to get up and down the court, scoring points in transition. When their running game gets going, they are impossible to beat. They are the deepest and arguably the most talented team in the country. Tyler Hansbrough and Brandan Wright form one of the best post tandems around. Hansbrough is relentless around the basket, while Wright is long and athletic. Tywon Lawson has done a terrific job at controlling tempo from the point, while Reyshawn Terry has been a consistent contributor. Wayne Ellington has one of the best three-point strokes in America. Marcus Ginyard and Danny Green provide depth on the wings, while Deon Thompson is the main man off the bench down low.

Georgetown had a rough start to the season, but turned it around near the beginning of Big East play, winning both the regular-season and conference tournament championships. Their size and efficient offensive system makes them difficult to defend. They are mostly a half-court team that beats teams on the glass and in the paint. If their perimeter players are taking some of the pressure off the big guys, they are tough to defend. The Hoyas are led by one of the best frontcourt tandems in the country in forward Jeff Green and center Roy Hibbert. Green is an excellent all-around player, while Hibbert has developed into a terrific big man. Dajuan Summers is another solid performer up front. Their perimeter is their weakness, but Jonathan Wallace has been a good point guard this year, and Jessie Sapp has been a do-it-all type of player for the Hoyas. Patrick Ewing, Jr. is an athletic energy player off the bench. The Hoyas will need their guards to step up against the Tar Heels.

This is going to be a terrific battle between two of the best teams in the country. It will also be a contrast of styles, as North Carolina loves to get out and run to score points in transition, while Georgetown would rather grind-it-out in a half-court game with their tough-to-defend offensive sytem. The frontcourt battle is going to be fun to watch. Both teams have terrific post tandems, and Georgetown hasn’t played a team with this type of frontcourt in weeks. Whoever wins the match-up between Jeff Green/Roy Hibbert and Tyler Hansbrough/Brandan Wright will have the inside track to victory. For North Carolina to advance, they will need to control the tempo. Tywon Lawson is extremely quick, and his speed will force the game to be uptempo. Moreover, the Tar Heels’ perimeter players need to knock down their three-pointers, to take some off the attention off of Hansbrough and Wright. On the other side, Georgetown can’t let North Carolina get into a running game. They won’t beat UNC if the Tar Heels are allowed to constantly get points in transition. Moreover, they have to take advantage of their experience in the backcourt. Remember, North Carolina starts three freshmen. In the end, I think that the North Carolina perimeter group is going to be the difference. The Tar Heels can match Georgetown inside, and they have a clear edge in the backcourt. Expect a close one, though.

Prediction: North Carolina 71, Georgetown 67

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