College Sports

Why Texas A&M could be a problem for UNC

North Carolina’s Theo Pinson: “We’ve got to execute and make the right plays”

Pinson talks about the Tar Heels’ matchup against Texan A&M in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday, March 17, 2018 at the Spectrum Center in Charlotte, N.C.
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Pinson talks about the Tar Heels’ matchup against Texan A&M in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday, March 17, 2018 at the Spectrum Center in Charlotte, N.C.

You’re supposed to keep your eyes on your own pod in the NCAA tournament.

Run your own race, play the games one at a time and all those good cliches.

Maryland-Baltimore County made that impossible with its stunning upset of No. 1 overall seed Virginia in Charlotte on Friday night, even for a tournament-tested team like North Carolina.

UNC (26-10) coach Roy Williams was trying to scout Texas A&M (21-12), the Tar Heels’ second-round opponent in Charlotte, but he couldn’t help but watch the Retrievers make history.

“I kept thinking it was April Fool’s Day or something I didn’t know what the crap was going on,” Williams said.

The UMBC Retrievers pulled off the previously impossible Friday night, making NCAA tournament history in Charlotte by upsetting Virginia, 74-54, before an absolutely shocked crowd.

It was the first time a No. 16 seed ever beat a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament in 136 games. Virginia was in a different quadrant of the bracket than UNC but it didn’t matter. UMBC has everyone’s attention.

“A lot of people doubt the impossible but I guess it was done last night,” UNC freshman Sterling Manley said. “It was crazy.”

It also emphasized the point that anything can happen in March. If a 16 can beat a 1, then UNC’s perfect tournament record in Charlotte (12-0) isn’t safe, either.

Williams said he had trouble sleeping after he watched the tape of the Aggies’ 73-69 win over Providence in the first round.

North Carolina basketball coach Roy Williams talks about facing the size of Texas A&M and that thinking about it makes it harder for him to sleep.

The Aggies have the kind of size UNC normally does. With a pair of big, athletic forwards — junior Tyler Davis (6-10, 266 pounds) and Robert Williams (6-10, 241 pounds) — the Tar Heels’ undersized lineup will be taxed.

Texas A&M forward Robert Williams talks about the Aggies' second round game against North Carolina on Saturday, March 17, 2018 at the Spectrum Center in Charlotte, N.C.

Williams had 13 points and 14 rebounds in the win over Providence while Davis had 14 points and 15 rebounds.

“Our length and size is something they’ve not seen a whole lot of,” Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy said.

UNC senior Theo Pinson said the Tar Heels’ experience with Duke, with their bigs Wendell Carter and Marvin Bagley, will help. So will the games against Louisville and Virginia.

But even Williams, in his 30th season as a head coach, said this Texas A&M outfit might be the “biggest team I’ve ever looked at.”

In addition to Davis and Williams, the Aggies start D.J. Hogg (6-9, 215) at the “3” and bring Tonny Trocha-Morelos (6-10, 229) off the bench.

Matching up with bigger teams has been an issue for UNC with its small-ball lineup this season. In losses to Michigan State, Florida State, N.C. State, Clemson, Miami and Duke, size was a problem for the Heels.

Bigger athletic post defenders have been a tougher matchup for UNC forward Luke Maye. The 6-9 junior struggled against a smaller Lipscomb lineup on Friday in the first round (2 of 9 from the floor for 10 points).

It has been Maye’s pattern this season to bounce back after scoring 10 points or less. He had six such games and averaged 22.2 in the next game.

Roy Williams did get after Maye during Friday’s game but he said he isn’t worried about Maye, the team’s top scorer and rebounder on the season.

“I love kids who care and Luke Maye really cares,” Williams said. “I don’t have to coach Luke very much, just push him a little bit and with a little finger.”

UNC has gotten more production recently from Manley, who had 10 rebounds in the win over Lipscomb, and freshman Garrison Brooks but this will be the ultimate test for their small-ball lineup.

“Those guys might be more gifted athletically but we just have to out-work them,” Manley said.

Pinson, who has been able to hold his own defending the “4” at 6-6 and 220 pounds, will be in the spotlight.

“I’m excited,” Pinson said. “It’s another challenge.”

A big challenge in a tournament that now has all the favorites on high alert.

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