Busting Brackets

Alabama vs North Carolina: 2023-24 NCAA Tournament game preview, TV schedule

March 23, 2024, Charlotte, NC, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels forward Armando Bacot (5) celebrates
March 23, 2024, Charlotte, NC, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels forward Armando Bacot (5) celebrates / Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

An exciting matchup pits Alabama against North Carolina in the Sweet Sixteen; can the Crimson Tide pull the upset or do the Tar Heels keep marching on?

TV schedule: Thursday, March 28, 9:39 pm ET. CBS

Arena: crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles, California

Things haven’t always gone their way this season, but Alabama (23-11) has showed their potential, especially on the offensive side of the ball. The Crimson Tide have topped 100 points several times this season, including in their first round win over Charleston last week. It’s their defense that let them down several times in SEC play and what might be their undoing in Los Angeles.

The clear star at Alabama this season has been Mark Sears (21.5 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 4.2 apg), a former Ohio guard who’s taken a major step forward in his second season with the Crimson Tide. Nate Oats has built a lineup filled with experience, including fellow transfer Aaron Estrada (13.3 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 4.7 apg), a former star at Hofstra. In the frontcourt, Alabama leans on former North Dakota State forward Grant Nelson (11.4 ppg, 5.4 rpg), who’s impacting both sides of the ball, while Rylen Griffen (11.0 ppg, 3.4 rpg) has taken a nice step forward as a sophomore in this system.

Alabama is currently 14th in KenPom, which actually is among the lowest of teams remaining in the Big Dance. Regardless, that offense is lethal and is the 4th-most efficient in the nation. The Crimson Tide shoot the ball sometimes with abandon, though they were able to do enough to beat Grand Canyon without all their shots falling back on Sunday night. Can they win a game where the offense doesn’t carry the load, especially with a porous defense?

The fierce opposition they’ll face is North Carolina (29-7), who earned their 1-seed by winning the regular season title in the ACC. North Carolina was far from perfect this season, but played great against their strong league, including a sweep of Duke. Their offense has been explosive in the NCAA Tournament, with the Tar Heels taking care of business in early wins over Wagner and Michigan State.

There are multiple playmakers for North Carolina but none as important as RJ Davis (21.3 ppg, 3.6 rpg). Both he and Armando Bacot (14.4 ppg, 10.2 rpg) were major forces on the Tar Heels’ run to the title game two seasons ago, with Davis a dynamic scorer and Bacot one of the nation’s best on the boards. Part of the reason for North Carolina’s success has been their additions, notably landing Harrison Ingram (12.2 ppg, 8.8 rpg), a sophomore forward who showed promise last season at Stanford. Another transfer putting up great production has been Cormac Ryan (11.3 ppg, 2.8 rpg) who developed into a good player at Notre Dame the last few years.

Even though they earned one of those top seeds, North Carolina is just 9th in KenPom and sit a bit lower than some of those other top seeds in the metrics. They have a great offense and an even better defense, sitting 6th in defensive efficiency. These Tar Heels are strong on the boards and stiff on the defensive end, all while having several playmakers who can score the ball at will. They’re a tough out at any point in this Tournament.

The biggest question is Alabama’s ability to stop the Tar Heels on offense. Perhaps a bigger question will be the health of Latrell Wrightsell, their fifth starter who left their last game with a head injury. The challenge is only harder for the Crimson Tide at less than full strength, especially when they don’t have an obvious defensive option to stop Bacot and Ingram on the boards and in the paint.

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Sears and company can turn this into a shootout in a hurry, but North Carolina has proven that they can prevail in those kinds of games. If we’re basing this off talent alone, North Carolina takes the cake with the talent and experience in this lineup, but this game isn’t being played on paper. This truly could go either way if the shots are falling from deep, but we’re going to lean towards these Tar Heels taking care of business and making enough of an impact on defense to advance to another Elite Eight.

Prediction: North Carolina 91, Alabama 83