SAN ANTONIO – Providence pulled one upset to reach to the NCAA Tournament. Sticking around will demand another.
No. 11 seed Providence makes its first tournament appearance in a decade today against sixth-seeded North Carolina, which also remembers 2004: That was the last time the Tar Heels stumbled into the tourney on a two-game slide, and they’re in the same rut again.
The Friars (23-11) earned an automatic bid by winning the Big East tournament against Creighton, which took a No. 3 seed.
“As I sit here today, I’m enjoying this more than you know,” said Providence coach Ed Cooley, whose Friars haven’t won in the tournament since 1997.
North Carolina (23-9) arrived in Texas shadowed more by frustration than fanfare.
Coach Roy Williams let a profanity slip Thursday while reflecting on a season that included star P.J. Hairston sidelined for violating NCAA rules.
Academic scandal has also enveloped the university.
That’s to say nothing of the Tar Heels’ up-and-down performance on the court. They started 1-4 in the ACC, regrouped to win 12 in a row and then dropped their past two games.
But Williams said his players aren’t the source of his frustration.
“It (has) been a marvelous group. If it hadn’t been for my team, I would’ve jumped off the top of the building,” Williams said. “My team is the one that was the savior throughout the whole season, and since the off-season. It (has) been a tough time around Chapel Hill.”
Forward James Michael McAdoo acknowledged that inconsistent has been a fair way to describe these Tar Heels.
“Now? I would hope not, at a point where it’s win or go home,” he said. “But obviously it’s true by looking at our record earlier in the season.”
Five things to look for when Providence plays North Carolina:
DEPTH PERCEPTIONS Injuries have effectively shrunk the Friars to a six-man rotation. Their starting five has played in every game, averages more than 30 minutes a game each and accounts for 93 percent of their offense.
BETTER ON THE BOARDS? North Carolina’s rebounding will be a gauge of whether this team is on the mend. The Tar Heels are coming off two games of lackluster rebounding, including their worst game on the boards in 30 years to end the regular season.
McAdoo said grabbing missed shots has been Williams’ priority in practice since.
COTTON STRONG Guard Bryce Cotton leads Creighton at 21.4 points per game and tops the nation in minutes played (39.9 minutes per game). Don’t expect to see him take a breather: in 15 of the last 18 games, the senior never came off the floor.
PAIGE IS OK North Carolina forward Marcus Paige said his left thigh has nearly fully healed after getting a contusion in the second half of last week’s loss in the ACC quarterfinals. He said he’ll likely wear a pad as protection but doesn’t expect the injury to be a concern.
ON THE LINE North Carolina is flirting with its worst free-throw shooting season since Dean Smith’s first year in 1962. The Tar Heels are shooting just 62.5 percent, which could spell trouble in a close game if Paige (88 percent) or Britt (79 percent) aren’t on the line.