UNC, Syracuse vastly different but familiar Final Four foes
HOUSTON >> North Carolina likes to run, and Syracuse prefers to walk.
These two teams that do things very differently are also very familiar with each other, having already played twice this season.
Except this isn't another ACC game. The conference rivals, with their veteran coaches who have both been here multiple times before, are playing each other in the Final Four.
While the stage and the stadium are much bigger, with a spot in the national championship game on the line, don't expect Roy Williams' Tar Heels (32-6) or Jim Boeheim's Orange (23-13) to start altering what they do in the national semifinal game Saturday night.
"We just try to do what we do better. That's all," said Boeheim, whose team and its 2-3 zone made it to Houston as a No. 10 seed. "It's a little too late in the year to be experimenting."
North Carolina, the only No. 1 seed in this Final Four and the ACC's highest-scoring team at 83 points a game, won both earlier matchups against the Orange this season.
Williams isn't sure he agrees with the old premise brought up constantly this week about the challenge of beating the same team three times in the same season.
"If you're better than me, you can probably beat me 20 times," Williams said, before adding a caveat about playing the Orange again. "The Syracuse games, the games went right down to the wire."
Then Williams reminded everyone of 1985 when Villanova, a No. 8 seed, beat defending national champion Georgetown in the title game after the Wildcats lost twice against their Big East rivals in the regular season — 57-50 and 52-50.
In the Jan. 9 game under Syracuse's dome, the Orange were tied at halftime and led by as many as six points after that. But Isaiah Hicks scored 19 of his 21 points after the break, and the Tar Heels hit 12 of 13 from the field in the closing minutes for an 84-73 victory.
In the Feb. 29 rematch at Chapel Hill, the Orange had cut a second-half deficit of 15 points to one with 2:23 left but never went back ahead in a 75-70 loss.
"I think it gives you some confidence going into this game" said Orange guard Trevor Cooney, who had a season-high 27 points in the first game against Carolina. "I mean, we can play with these guys. ... If we play the way we've been playing defensively, I think we'll be fine."
A few other things when North Carolina and Syracuse play for the fourth time in the NCAA Tournament, first since 1987:
3s TIMES 2
Senior guard Marcus Paige has made at least two 3s in all 11 NCAA Tournament games he has played in for North Carolina, and his 32 overall are second-most school history behind only 1993 Final Four MVP Donald Williams' 38. In six NCAA games played in NRG Stadium, the 12 teams have combined to shoot 27.6 percent from long range. But that doesn't seem to faze Paige. "It is still a rim out there 10 feet up," he said. "After a couple minutes of shooting, it is no different than any other rim."
FINAL FOUR EXPERIENCE
This is Williams' fourth Final Four appearance with North Carolina, after four with Kansas. His two national titles are with the Tar Heels, including their last Final Four appearance in 2009. Boeheim is in his fifth Final Four, and his only title came in 2003 when the Orange beat Kansas — in what was Williams' last game with the Jayhawks before going back to Carolina.
DOUBLE-DIGITS IN FINAL FOUR
Syracuse is the fourth double-digit seed to reach the Final Four. The Orange will try to become the first to make it to the championship game.
ACC vs. ACC
This is the sixth time two ACC teams have reached the Final Four, and the third time for the conference to have a national semifinal matchup. North Carolina beat Virginia in 1981 before losing to Indiana in the national title game. Twenty years later, Duke was the national champion after first defeating Maryland in the semifinal game.
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