Final Four Preview: Will North Carolina's Big Men Be Too Much for Oregon?
The Oregon Ducks have finally ended a tortuous drought -- they're in the Final Four for the time since 1939, which was the inaugural year of the event. Their prize? A matchup with the 1-seeded North Carolina Tar Heels, who have danced this long 20 times in school history, including each of the last two years.
Head coach Roy Williams' group is comprised of many of the same pieces that got them to the national championship game last season before losing to the Villanova Wildcats. Now, this team is hoping to use their experience to redeem themselves and cut down the nets.
It's not as if Oregon doesn't have valuable tournament experience of their own, though.
The Ducks boast a senior class that has been to the big dance in each of the last four seasons, including a trip to the Elite Eight last year. They've weathered the storm of losing big man Chris Boucher right before the NCAA Tournament so far, but will not having him on the court for this game be the difference between moving on and going home?
North Carolina's Keys to Victory
If there is one glaring mismatch between these two squads, it's North Carolina's height advantage.
Given Oregon's loss of Boucher, the Tar Heels have the height advantage at every position on the front line -- even guard Theo Pinson is nearly the same height as Dillon Brooks, who has played 81 percent of all power forward minutes over the past five games for the Ducks. However, this especially bodes well for the Tar Heels because of their exceptional rebounding percentages.
They not only lead the NCAA in total rebound percentage, but also in offensive rebound percentage, grabbing 58.7 percent of all rebounds and 41.7 of offensive rebound opportunities. Oregon will be fighting an uphill battle by using a smaller lineup while having to face the best rebounding team in the country.
The rebounding margin is what North Carolina uses to make up for being a relatively mediocre shooting team -- they rank 7th in offensive rating, but only rank 115th in three-point shooting percentage and 86th in two-point shooting percentage. The extra chances on offense will be important against an Oregon team that defends well, ranking in the top 25 in opponents' offensive rating.
Using the height advantage to keep chipping away inside will be UNC's best course of action for offensive success because of their lack of strong outside shooting and Oregon's superb three-point defense. The inside attack will put Oregon's main big man, Jordan Bell, under pressure to stay out of foul trouble since he is the only Duck left over 6'8" that saw legitimate playing time this season.
This approach would also help the Tar Heels stick to their desired game plan, as they rank 311th nationally in three-point attempts per field goal attempts. The X-factor on this side of the floor will be forward Justin Jackson -- he's not the most efficient three-point shooter, but he definitely gets the volume necessary, which is aided by second chance opportunities.
Jackson and Joel Berry II are the only two players shooting better than 33 percent from distance while averaging at least two attempts per game. They will need to help space the floor for the Tar Heels' big men to work effectively inside.
Oregon's Keys to Victory
While Oregon does have to deal with a height disadvantage, they have outrebounded each of their opponents thus far in the NCAA Tournament. They have mostly been aided to this point by playing teams not especially known for their rebounding prowess -- Kansas has been their biggest test to-date (they ranked 51st in total rebounding).
The big task at hand will be finding a way to make North Carolina's height advantage a disadvantage.
They can do this by blitzing the Tar Heels from the outside and forcing them to play a small-ball lineup, which Oregon is capable of doing. The Ducks rank 37th in three-point shooting percentage nationally (38.4%), while North Carolina is not especially known for their three-point defense.
Opponents of the Tar Heels have had to lean on three-point shooting to defeat them, but they do a decent job of defending the arc -- North Carolina is allowing opponents to shoot just under 34 percent from that area of the floor this season. Oregon does have three players averaging 20-plus minutes who are shooting at least 40 percent from downtown. Two of those are Dillon Brooks and Tyler Dorsey, who lead the team in usage rate (outside of the injured Boucher).
If Oregon can force North Carolina into playing smaller lineups, this will likely lead to more outside shooting from the Tar Heels, which could play into the hands of the Ducks. They rank 17th in three-point defense, making it a huge advantage if they can get the Tar Heels out of their offensive comfort zone and into their own defensive comfort zone.