On Thursday, the North Carolina Tar Heels will begin their quest for their first national championship since the 2008-09 season. The first team standing in their way of this goal is the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles.
On Tuesday night, in the First Four, Florida Gulf Coast destroyed the Fairleigh Dickinson Knights 96-65 in Dayton, Ohio. Marc-Eddy Norelia led the way for the Eagles with 20 points and 10 rebounds.
That impressive performance aside, a far different challenge awaits the latest version of “Dunk City,” as North Carolina is the top seed in the East Region and is coming off an impressive showing in the ACC Tournament, which was capped off with a 61-57 victory in the championship game over fellow No. 1 seed Virginia (Midwest Region).
No. 16 Florida Gulf Coast Eagles (21-13) vs. No. 1 North Carolina Tar Heels (28-6)
When: 7:20 p.m. ET (Thursday)
Where: PNC Arena (Raleigh, NC)
Keys for Florida Gulf Coast
The strength of the Eagles is their perimeter defense. They are holding opponents to 31 percent from 3-point range, which is the eighth best among the team in the NCAA Tournament. If they're going to pull off the historic upset, they will need to slow down ACC Tournament MVP Joel Berry and the rest of Tar Heels’ long-range shooting.
Keys for North Carolina
North Carolina will use its depth to its advantage against Florida Gulf Coast. The Tar Heels have eight players that average at least 15 minutes per game and six of them average at least nine points per contest. Senior forward Brice Johnson has been one of the Tar Heels best players, as the first-team All-ACC honoree is averaging a double-double (16.6 ppg, 10.6 rpg).
A No. 16 seed has never upset a No. 1 seed and while that will change some day, don't expect history to be made in Raleigh on Thursday. North Carolina has too much depth and talent for Florida Gulf Coast to handle. The Tar Heels should win their first tournament game comfortably.
Prediction: North Carolina 90, Florida Gulf Coast 65
— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, Pro Player Insiders and is a reporter for Sports Talk Florida. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.