NCAA Tournament East Region: (1) North Carolina Tar Heels vs. (16) Florida Gulf Coast Eagles

UNC is 22 point favorites against No. 16 seeded Florida Gulf Coast.
UNC is 22 point favorites against No. 16 seeded Florida Gulf Coast.

1 UNC vs 16 FGCU
Time: 6:20 PM CT
Spread: UNC -22
Total: 148

Betting odds c/o 5dimes

The North Carolina Tar Heels finished the season ranked No. 3 in the AP polls while compiling a 28-6 record and first place finish in the ACC. The Tar Heels defeated Virginia in the ACC Tournament Final and will look to carry that momentum into its opening matchup against Florida Golf Coast in the tournament.

The Tar Heels are heavy 22 point favorites in the game with an over/under set at 148 by college basketball oddsmakers at 5dimes.

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UNC put three of five starters in double figures against Virginia’s tough defense. In a slow paced game, sophomore guard Joel Berry II led the way with 19 points on 5 of 8 shooting. He has been hot for the most part, having connected on 17 of 24 from the field after having a 3 of 11 night in the 76-72 win over Duke on Mar. 5. Berry shot 7 of 8 from the field in the 88-71 win over Pittsburgh on Mar 10, and he has hit at least two threes in seven of the Tar Heels’ past 10 games.

The top draw on UNC though is Brice Johnson. He is projected to be a high first round pick in the NBA draft and he averaged 16.6 points, 10.6 rebounds and 2.4 blocks/steals per game while shooting an outstanding 61.4 percent from the field.

The 6’9” forward appears to be a prototypical 4 in the NBA, and he has been as efficient as ever the past five Tar Heels games. Over that span he has connected on 30 of 55 from the field while collecting 57 rebounds (11.4 per game), as well. Johnson is what UNC needs too: he is consistent and efficient, and he will make the Tar Heels a tough out in this tournament.

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Senior point guard Marcus Paige is another big factor. He averaged 12 points and 3.7 assists per game this season, but he barely turns it over, just 1.2 times per game. His efficiency and scoring output has fallen off from his junior year, but he could easily turn it on while performing on the biggest stage in this tournament.

Paige shot just 5 of 13 in the win over Virginia, and he has been good for just 39.3 percent shooting this year. In his sophomore and junior seasons he shot 38 percent or better from three, but he has been good for just 32.3 percent in his final season at UNC. He comes in struggling with his shot, but his poise and ball handling will be big for UNC and he is a reliable enough free throw shooter at 77 percent to keep the ball in his hands when the games are on the line.

Florida Gulf Coast finished the season 20-13 but won the Atlantic Sun Conference championship over the Stetson Hatters. Freshman guard Zach Johnson led the Eagles in scoring in that game with 19 points, and the first year guard has been very effective this season. Johnson averaged 11 points, 3.3 assists and 2.6 rebounds per game while playing 27 minutes a night.

The Eagles won the play-in game to get in the tournament, and Johnson had a very efficient game despite turning it over six times. He finished with eight points on 3 of 4 shooting, seven assists and five rebounds, while also coming up with two blocks and three steals.

Prior to that game, Johnson had scored in double figures in the previous six games. When he scores in double figures, FGC is 14-6 this season. Getting Johnson going may be the key to the Eagles’ chances, even if he is the No. 3 option in the offense.

The Eagles best player is 6’8” junior forward Marc Eddy Norelia. He averaged 17.3 points, 9.2 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 1.9 steals/blocks per game this season. Norelia shot 54.9 percent from the field this season and he had a big game in the play-in game with 20 points on 10 of 11 shooting while also grabbing 10 rebounds and dishing five assists. He has seen his role more or less double from his sophomore year when he averaged eight points and five rebounds a season ago.

The Eagles are unlikely to beat UNC, but Norelia could have a big night for himself, and he will be the lynchpin given he is likely to cover Johnson in this game.

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