Tar Heels take aim at Crimson in second round

Mar 19, 2015 - 2:35 PM Jacksonville, FL (SportsNetwork.com) - Just barely squeaking into the NCAA Tournament this time around, the Harvard Crimson have been rewarded for their efforts with a date against North Carolina in the second round of the event on Thursday at Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena.

The Crimson are into the tournament for the fourth straight year, but it didn't come easy by any means. In fact, Harvard practically backed into the postseason after Yale failed to take care of business in the final game of the regular season. Because Harvard and the Bulldogs, two of the standard bearers for the Ivy League, could not settle their differences during the regular season, they were forced to go to a playoff and last Saturday, the Crimson survived a 53-51 decision at The Palestra in Philadelphia.

Harvard, the 13th seed in the West Region, is 22-7 overall in 2014-15 and sported an impressive 11-3 mark versus the rest of the Ancient Eight. Winners of five straight league titles, Harvard has a record of 2-4 in this event over the years.

As for the fourth-seeded Tar Heels, the NCAA Tournament is commonplace, the team having produced a staggering 110-43 record in the event over the years, which includes a total of five championships (1957, 1982, 1993, 2005, and 2009). North Carolina, which represents the highly-competitive ACC, posted a record of 24-11 overall and was 11-7 in league play in 2014-15, but the squad came up short in the ACC Tournament title game last weekend when it bowed to nationally-ranked Notre Dame, 90-82, even though the Heels knocked down an impressive 53.0 percent from the floor in the contest.

A good omen for the Tar Heels is the fact that the team has made the most appearances in the Final Four over the years, notching 18 such trips.

Believe it or not, the Crimson are reported to have a 2-0 advantage in the all-time series against UNC, although the last meeting took place close to 90 years ago as Harvard posted a 40-37 win on Feb. 8, 1926.

The survivor of this meeting advances to the third round on Saturday to face off against the winner of the Wofford/Arkansas matchup.

As has been the case for quite some time now, the calling card for the Crimson is their staunch defense, limiting opponents to only 57.2 ppg. The group has held foes to a modest 39.9 percent shooting from the floor overall and 32.7 percent beyond the arc, which is much needed given the fact that Harvard's offense is producing only 64.2 ppg.

Wesley Saunders is the lone double-digit scorer for the Crimson with 16.3 ppg, supplying a considerable number of points at the free-throw line where he went 132-of-172. But more than just a scorer, Saunders was also second on the unit both as a rebounder (6.1 rpg) and passer (123 assists). On the glass, he trailed only Steve Moundou-Missi (9.7 ppg) who was responsible for 7.4 rpg, while the passing stats placed him closely behind Siyani Chambers (9.8 ppg) who handed out 126 assists, but was just a 35.6 percent shooter from the floor.

On a team that is generating a healthy 77.9 ppg, against the 68.4 ppg it allows, the Tar Heels sport four players who are putting up double digits this season, as the entire group shoots 47.5 percent from the field and crushes foes on the glass by an average of 8.1 rpg. Marcus Paige is responsible for 13.9 ppg, connecting on a team-best 86 shots from 3-point range, but still the unit is only 34.5 percent accurate out on the perimeter. Paige is also first with 161 assists and 57 steals.

Coming in with 13.2 ppg and a team-best 7.7 rpg is Brice Johnson who, when not getting into foul trouble and taking himself out of the action, connects on 57.3 percent of his field goal tries. Kennedy Meeks pitches in with 11.7 ppg and another 7.5 rpg as he too shows great touch from the floor (.564), although not so much at the free-throw line (.642). Justin Jackson accounts for 10.4 ppg and J.P. Tokoto adds 8.3 ppg and another 148 assists in order to push the Tar Heels to new heights.

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