They played in January, they played in February, and now they’re playing this Saturday in the Final Four. They’re North Carolina and Syracuse. Two teams from the same conference but with wildly different paths to Houston.
The Tar Heels were the second overall seed in the tournament, while the Orange were lucky just to make the tournament. Now they’re squaring off in Houston, each vying for their first title-game berth since 2009 and 2003, respectively.
“These teams are very familiar with each other,” former North Carolina star and current Tar Heels analyst Eric Montross said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “They’re familiar with what they do and what they do well. So I don’t know that there’s a lot of new teaching. I think there’s certainly refining. I think there’s also certainly the little nuances that you’re going to try to throw at each other to try and keep you off set. We saw Syracuse not just sit in their 2-3, but also go into a little bit of a half-court trap (against Virginia), trying to just move pace. Even though they’re not a team that necessarily wants to run with Carolina, they are a team that certainly wants to keep Carolina at bay.”
Carolina went 2-0 against Syracuse this season, winning 84-73 on the road and 75-70 at home.
“Carolina is very good inside with their passing,” Montross said. “Those guys had a lot of success passing from the high-post, low-post – which, of course, is how you defeat a 2-3 zone, aside from your perimeter shooting. So I think (there’s) a lot more of just trying to refine, rather than actually teach.”
This isn’t the first time Roy Williams and Jim Boeheim have met on a big stage. In fact, they’ve squared off on an even bigger stage. Boeheim beat Williams’ Kansas Jayhawks for the 2003 national championship. That was the last game Williams coached at Kansas.
Montross doesn’t think that game from 13 years ago will have much impact on what happens Saturday.
“I think that when you look at Final Four games and tournament games in March, you’re talking about how much do you teach at this time of year and how much do you rely on what has already been taught,” he said. “When you look at these two teams, obviously they’ve got coaches that have their own pedigree. We know they’ve been teaching all year, so now it’s really about performance and who can perform. March is built on individual and team performances, and these two teams have had them. Now you look more at who’s going to be able to put the performance on display on Saturday?
“Syracuse is obviously short-handed with the number of players they play,” Montross continued. “They barely play seven. They’ve only played seven in the tournament so far. Of that, they have five guys that are averaging close to 30 minutes a game, so they really don’t like to throw a lot of different wrinkles into their lineup. Carolina, on the other hand, is pretty easy to play nine, 10 guys. But again, I think it’s a matter of will Trevor Cooney have 27 again, like he did up in Syracuse? Will Isaiah Hicks have a 20+ game again? Will Carolina be able to score as easily on assisted baskets because of their passing within the zone, or is Syracuse going to create turnovers and then have their own opportunities to convert on those situations?
“So I think that the teams right now have areas they can capitalize on, but (only) one of them will rise to the top.”
Tip-off on Saturday is at 8:49 p.m. ET.