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NCAA tournament preview: North Carolina vs. Arkansas

3/21/2015

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The No. 4 seed North Carolina Tar Heels and No. 5 seed Arkansas Razorbacks both survived scares in their opening NCAA tournament games.

North Carolina trailed Harvard in the final minute before Justin Jackson saved the day and the 67-65 victory. Coach Roy Williams said it was the luckiest he had ever felt after a game in his whole life. “You've got to give Harvard credit for driving me whacko,” Williams said. Wofford also gave Arkansas and coach Mike Anderson fits, leading for a majority of their game before the Razorbacks took the lead for good with 1:40 to play, avoiding the 5-12 upset we have come to expect at tournament time. Neither team put together a complete effort, something that needs to change Saturday.

Key to the game: Can North Carolina put together a complete 40 minutes? The Tar Heels were the far superior team against Harvard, pulling out to a 16-point lead five minutes into the second half. But then they seemed almost lackadaisical with their effort as Harvard started to chip away at the lead. North Carolina had eight turnovers over the 14-minute stretch that ensued, making just 4 of its 11 shot attempts. Watching the Tar Heels lose leads late in games is nothing new for Carolina fans who have seen similar things unfold at least four times in big situations this season. Against Notre Dame in the ACC championship game, North Carolina blew a nine-point lead with 9:21 left and lost. In both meetings against Duke, North Carolina blew leads and lost. It also wasted an 18-point lead in a loss to Louisville. Such lapses cannot continue into the tournament if North Carolina wants to make a run at a national championship. Arkansas poses its own challenges because of its press. UNC committed 17 turnovers against Harvard, leading to 29 points. Arkansas is 20-0 when forcing 15 or more turnovers this season. Under Anderson, Arkansas has forced its opponents into 20 turnovers 28 times, including eight times this season. In those games, Arkansas is 27-1.

Players to watch: Bobby Portis and Michael Qualls. Arkansas looked disjointed on offense for much of its game against Wofford, but the star of the game was Qualls, who has a dunk or two in his repertoire and 13 SportsCenter Top 10 plays in his career. Portis gets much of the attention given his ability in the post -- the SEC Player of the Year recorded his 13th double-double against Wofford. But he was ineffective for large stretches of the game, going 5-of-12 from the field and 5-of-9 from the free throw line, leaving Qualls to really stand out. Qualls ended up with a game-high 20 points on 8-of-9 shooting. In his past seven games, he has scored at least 15 points. He was named to the SEC all-tournament team after averaging a team-high 17.7 points. So Qualls is hitting his stride at the right time for Arkansas. If he and Portis are both playing well and its defensive intensity is on point, Arkansas will be a difficult out for the Tar Heels. Jackson, J.P. Tokoto and Kennedy Meeks will be relied upon to help slow them both down. Jackson had 14 points to lead the Tar Heels against Harvard.