Preview: #1 UNC vs. #16 Florida Gulf Coast

FGCU (2013)- Atlantic Sun Conference

A first round matchup between the #1 and #16 seed is not generally discussed among March Madness viewers, but the return of “Dunk City” warrants a bit of uneasiness for UNC fans. Florida Gulf Coast hasn’t danced since 2013, where they became the first #15 seed to make it to the Sweet Sixteen, after beating #2 Georgetown and #7 SDSU before losing to #3 Florida.

Though this team is no longer focused on a high-flying, fast-paced style of basketball, Coach Joe Dooley has assembled a well-balanced, tough team that may be better than the 2013 squad. Though they were able to blow out Fairleigh-Dickinson by 31 points on Tuesday, FGCU went 0-4 against RPI top 100 opponents. They are also just 4-9 in all away games this season. To win this game, Jr. Marc Eddy Norelia will need to limit Brice Johnson, forcing a bigger load on Marcus Paige, who’s been inconsistent this season. Both teams rebound particularly well for playing with smaller lineups, so out-rebounding UNC could wind up being a major factor, and ultimately the component that decides who wins this game. If FGCU can force UNC’s stars into making mistakes, while limiting their own, this can wind up being a very close ballgame that falls in FGCU’s favor.

UNC (286)- ACC

UNC has history on their side, as a #16 seed has never beaten a #1 seed, but North Carolina certainly didn’t want it to start like this. A #1 seed taking on a #16 shouldn’t attract this much hype, but unfortunately for UNC, it has. One of the most successful programs in NCAA history shouldn’t be so concerned about a program that earned a full D-1 title in 2011, but the name “Dunk City” has struck a bit of fear into the hearts of UNC fans. Although UNC may not be as dominant as their tournament winning squad in 2009, they certainly have the talent to make a deep run this March. Senior Brice Johnson has been the true standout of this year’s Tar Heels team, averaging a double-double with 16.6 points and 10.6 boards per game. This team’s success is heavily reliant on Johnson’s performance, meaning UNC should breeze past FGCU if  Johnson is playing well. Sophomore guard Joel Berry II has also been a pleasant surprise this season, who’s performance could also play a major role in this game’s result. The biggest x-factor for this UNC team is Sr. guard Marcus Paige. Paige led UNC in scoring the past two seasons, but injuries and inconsistent play have limited him this season. If Paige finds his rhythm early in the game, expect a blowout on UNC’s part.

Prediction: UNC wins 78-59

FGCU is able to use their toughness and grit to keep the game close through the first half, but UNC’s depth and versatility will allow them to gain a comfortable lead early in the second half, which FGCU will not be able to overcome.

Adam Gross

Purdue University ‘19

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