With the brackets unveiled on Selection Sunday, the NCAA tournament field is now set. The North Carolina men's basketball team heads to the West region as the No. 2 seed, where it will face off with some familiar faces and some new opponents. Here's a look at some of the teams UNC could have to face to make it back to a third straight Final Four.
West Region preview: a look at the other top teams UNC could face
The Mountaineers raced into the NCAA Tournament as one of the hottest teams in the country, having won 13 of their last 15 games. The icing on the cake was a Big East regular season title, stealing what would have been a fifth consecutive regular season crown from Villanova. Led by All-Big East first team unanimous selection Trevon Bluiett (19.5 points, 5.7 rebounds, 42.3 percent 3-pointers) and fellow senior J.P. Macura (12.2 points, 4.4 rebounds) lead an experienced squad that made the Elite Eight last year before falling to Gonzaga. In addition to Bluiett and Macuna, the other double-figuring scoring option is fellow senior Kerem Kanter. The Mountaineers were the 11th highest scoring team in the country at 84.3 points per game. The scoring is well distributed throughout the squad, with eight different players averaging at least seven points a game. The one deficiency for the team is rebounding. While Xavier rebounds decently as a team, it is concerning that its leading board getter is Bluiett at 6-foot-6. That lack of size could doom the Mountaineers against UNC, one of the nation’s best offensive rebounding teams. However, if the Mountaineers can keep a game with the Tar Heels close, their 79-percent free-throw shooting (sixth best in the country) could propel the program to its first ever Final Four.
No. 3: Michigan (28-7, 13-5 Big Ten)
The Wolverines are also one of the hottest teams in the country and rode a nine-game winning streak into Selection Sunday. That streak included capturing a second straight Big 10 tournament title. Along the way, the team beat tough conference foes Ohio State, Michigan State and Purdue. Junior forward Moritz Wagner leads an experienced squad that starts four upperclassmen. Wagner had an outstanding junior season and was rewarded with a All-Big Ten Second Team selection after leading the Wolverines in points (14.5 per game) and rebounds (7.1 per game). He can stroke it from anywhere on the floor. Guards Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Charles Matthews captain an experienced backcourt and both players averaged double figures in scoring. The Wolverines have plenty of motivation in this tournament after falling by one point to Oregon in last year’s Sweet 16. To get to the Elite Eight this year, Michigan would have to avenge a Nov. 29 loss to UNC. The Wolverines boast the eighth-best scoring defense in the country at 63.5 points allowed. Expect them to slow the game down if they meet UNC in the Sweet 16 as the Wolverines try and make the Tar Heels play at their tempo. The Wolverines' Achilles heel is rebounding (just 33 rebounds per game) and it could doom them in a rematch with UNC.
No. 4: Gonzaga (30-4, 17-1 WCC)
Yes, this is the same Bulldogs team that narrowly lost 71-65 to UNC in last year’s National Championship game. Gone is second team All-American Nigel Williams-Goss but that has not stopped the Bulldogs from securing a second straight 30-win season and yet another West Coast Conference regular season championship. If you like a team that decimates its opponents, look no further. The Bulldogs led the country with a plus-17.4 scoring margin, and scored an impressive 84.5 points per game. Gonzaga also has one of the most balanced attacks in the country, with five players averaging double figures in scoring. In addition to scoring at a high mark, the Bulldogs also rank tied for fifth in the nation in rebounding margin (plus-9.0 per game). All-WCC First Team selections Johnathan Williams and Josh Perkins are determined to get their team back to the Final Four. To get there they would have to beat the Tar Heels in the Elite Eight. But if there is a team that can match up with UNC’s balanced scoring and tough play on the glass, it is Gonzaga. A rematch of those two teams in the Elite Eight could shape up to being one of the best games of the tournament.
No. 5: Ohio State (24-8, 15-3 Big-Ten)
Yet another team that wants to avenge a loss to UNC, the Buckeyes finished the season on a sour note, winning just eight of their last 12 games and falling in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament to a mediocre Penn State team. The Buckeyes are led by Big Ten Player of the Year senior Keita Bates-Diop, an athletic 6-foot-7 forward who finished second in the conference in scoring (19.4 points per game). Bates-Diop has the ability for big game performances and he scored 25 points in eight different games this season. The Buckeyes boast three other double-figure scorers, however, the scoring load drops off precipitously after that, with only one other Buckeye averaging more than eight points per contest. Ohio State is not a particularly good rebounding team outside of Bates-Diop and forward Jae-Sean Tate, something that could doom them in a second-round matchup against Gonzaga. First-year coach Chris Holtmann will have his hands full in getting the Buckeyes past a Bulldog squad that beat them by 27 points earlier this season. If Ohio State can win its first three games, though, it will have a chance to avenge an 86-72 loss on Dec. 23 against UNC.
No. 6: Houston (26-7, 14-4 AAC)
Considered by many to be a sleeper team in the West Region, the Cougars finished tied for second in the American Athletic Conference and lost in the conference tournament championship game to Cincinnati. First team All-Conference selection Robert Gray Jr. leads the Cougars attack with a 18.5 points per game average. Gray is no stranger to big games and he dropped 30 points five different times this season. Junior guard Corey Davis Jr. is another player to watch out for. Davis finished second on the team in scoring (13.5 ppg) and hit a team-high 3.1 3-pointers per game at an outstanding 44 percent clip. The one thing lacking from Houston’s résumé is quality wins. The Cougars best wins this season came against conference opponents Cincinnati and Wichita State (twice). But with the two veteran guards leading the way, the Cougars could surprise some people en route to a Sweet 16 matchup with UNC.
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