As mentioned in Tuesday’s On the Vine podcast, pace of game will determine whether Harvard can win a NCAA tournament game for the third straight season.
The Tar Heels are 1-5 in games with fewer than 65 possessions, while Harvard has played in only eight games this season with more than 65 possessions. In other words, the slower the game, the more successful the Crimson are likely to be.
Harvard ranks 34th in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency, and North Carolina has been a turnover-prone team all season, prone to poor passing and occasionally pushing tempo at the expense of smart offense.
Yet both teams lack consistent perimeter shooting, so if it becomes either a transition or slashing game, the advantage goes to the Tar Heels, a physically imposing bunch which can dominate Harvard inside and on the offensive glass. How will the Crimson match up with UNC’s sophomore forward Kennedy Meeks or junior forward Brice Johnson? I’m really not sure.
And that’s not to mention junior guard Marcus Paige, a wildly talented chief offensive threat for UNC who will overpower the Crimson if he can get to the rim with any consistency. He also scored 14 points in UNC’s win over Virginia in the ACC tournament, or more than half of the 27 points Harvard scored at UVA earlier this season, so there’s that.
North Carolina junior forward J.P. Tokoto will match up with Harvard senior guard Wesley Saunders, and if Tokoto has even limited success defending Saunders, Harvard has no real shot whatsoever.
Bottom line: Although Harvard is well-equipped to play a slower game with success, even against an ACC opponent, it simply doesn’t have the athleticism to match up with the Tar Heels, who are bigger, have more momentum and are built to trump Harvard from the inside out.
Prediction: UNC 68, Harvard 57