Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 10:05 AM

Sunday - Session 2

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West Region – Charlotte – Spectrum Center
#7 Texas A&M vs. #2 North Carolina (-6.5, 151.5) – 5:15 PM EST – CBS

The Tar Heels will have to defend their championship by prevailing out West next weekend just to get to San Antonio but can’t get ahead of themselves by even thinking about L.A. just yet. Hardened by persevering through one of the most challenging SEC seasons in years despite being shorthanded, Texas A&M will look to ruin the UNC coronation in Charlotte.

After surviving a tight game with Providence, the Aggies have now won four of five, losing only a 71-70 result to Alabama in the SEC Tournament. When healthy early in the season, A&M beat West Virginia, Oklahoma State, Penn State and USC. It owns wins over Kentucky and Auburn and losses to Arizona and Kansas. Billy Kennedy’s team won’t be intimidated.

North Carolina lost three starters and a 7-foot freshman reserve off last year’s national championship team, but their smaller group shoots it better and rebounds impressively. Pittsburgh transfer Cameron Johnson has become invaluable due to his versatility, but teams often try and give him space to shoot since he’s been erratic shooting it. Although he’s got a pair of games with six makes, he’s had his share of clunkers and entered the NCAA Tournament on a 5-for-18 run but went 2-for-3 against Lipscomb in the Heels’ relatively painless 84-66 first-round win.

Point guard Joel Berry shot 2-for-9 from beyond the arc in the first round and is in a 12-for-45 slump from 3-point range, so he needs to start turning it around. Fellow senior Theo Pinson has shined down the stretch as a facilitator, rebounder and defender, emerging as the most valuable member of this group that’s attempting to win a second straight title. He’s also played at least 35 minutes in three of his last four games and will be up against a larger, stronger frontcourt with multiple dynamic athletes.

We’ll see here whether playing four games in as many days in the ACC Tournament last weekend affects Roy Williams’ team since there isn’t a ton of depth available and they’ll be up against a team that will create issues in the paint both ends thanks to power forward Robert Williams and center Tyler Davis, each of whom average over nine boards per game and will challenge UNC’s supremacy on the boards. The duo outrebounded Providence by themselves, 29-26.

Williams called rebounding the most critical factor in his team’s game, which makes this a test for them to prove exactly how good they are at it and put it on display once again. A&M can pull off an upset if its superior size wins out, which will require staying out of foul trouble.

The under has prevailed in five of the last six games involving North Carolina this month as it has ramped up its defense in tournaments. The over has hit in eight of the last 11 A&M games, though only one of their games have gotten into the 150s, where this one started at. That contest, an 81-80 win at Auburn on Feb. 7, surpassed the posted total (153.5).

South Region – Nashville – Bridgetone Arena
#7 Nevada vs. #2 Cincinnati (-8, 137.5) – 6:10 PM EST – TNT

The Bearcats didn’t play well at all despite winning the American Athletic Conference Tournament in Orlando last weekend, struggling against SMU, Memphis and Houston last weekend. They were down in the second half of all those games, so a relatively slow start against Georgia State where they failed to cover the first-half number probably should have been expected.

Once again, their defensive intensity wore down Georgia State in a 68-53 win where they were able to cover after the Panthers fouled unnecessarily in the final minute despite the game already being decided. Cincinnati is second in the nation in points allowed per game (57), second in field-goal percentage defense (37.1), eighth in blocks (5.5) and ninth in 3-point percentage defense (30.9). The Bearcats have allowed 61 or fewer points in 18 of their last 22 games.

In Nevada, Mick Cronin’s Bearcats will have by far their most daunting defensive challenge since the regular-season finale at Wichita State. Tough to contain, the Wolf Pack haven’t scored fewer than 64 points all season. Xavier, the best offensive team Cincy saw this season, won 89-76 at Cintas Center. Cronin wasn’t singing his opponents’ praises just to talk up an opponent. He called Sunday’s opponent “nightmare to cover.”

Texas did a nice job of containing Nevada until Mo Bamba got into foul trouble and then had problems solving the mismatches that Cody Martin, Caleb Martin and Jordan Caroline all create. They’re all big wings who can shoot it, put it on the ground and set plays up for one another.

Purdue transfer Kendall Stephens is an elite shooter who also benefits from the attention teammates command, adding teeth to the attack with his touch from the perimeter. We’ll see if they’ll be able to gang rebound with to keep the bigger Bearcats from controlling the boards, but if they can hit from the perimeter, should be able to do some damage.

Nevada did lose to San Diego State twice down the stretch but were able to produce against strong defensive teams in Texas Tech, UC-Davis, UC-Irvine and Rhode Island. Losing guard Lindsey Drew late in the season means Eric Musselman is now just seven-deep, so we’ll see if the Wolf Pack have enough left in the tank to pull off another upset after working overtime against Texas. Cincinnati is deeper, so Cronin can attempt to try and wear down his opponent by keeping lineups fresh.

The x-factor for the Bearcats will be whether Jacob Evans and Jarron Cumberland can score effectively on the wing consistently. Cincinnati likes to shorten games and will want to keep Nevada from finding a rhythm, but it runs the risk of bogging its offense down if jump shots don’t go down and the Wolf Pack turn misses into run-outs.

Nevada must find a way to generate easy baskets and hit a good share of their 3-pointers to overcome the favored Bearcats but seem to have a puncher’s chance if Martin’s foot holds up. Cincinnati has stifled foes on the 3-point line. The Wolf Pack have thrived there. That battle of will decides whether there’s a chance of an upset.

Midwest Region – San Diego – Viejas Arena
#5 Clemson vs. #4 Auburn (-1.5, 146.5) – 7:10 PM EST – TBS

No 12-seed defeated a No. 5 this season, a rarity in that it’s only happened one other time in this decade. Even though these teams were favored to meet, it’s somewhat of an upset that two Southern powers better known for their football each avoided an upset in order to square off for a Sweet 16 berth.

Only Clemson’s Tigers covered, putting together an impressive win against New Mexico State. Auburn never got into a flow due to point guard Jared Harper’s foul trouble but managed to survive against a veteran College of Charleston squad that pushed the Tigers to the limit, winning in part due to a mistake by the officials that worked out in their favor. Refs never noticed that Harper, an 82 percent free-throw shooter, wasn’t supposed to be on the line for the attempts that helped secure the result. Chuma Okeke, a 69 percent shooter was. Harper helped lock up a 62-58 win.

In fairness, Auburn would’ve likely held on against Charleston, but one can’t say that for sure given the buzzer-beater bug flying around this tournament. The Tigers won despite shooting 5-for-24 from 3-point range and missing 17 of 32 free throws, which is another reason those Harper makes took on increased importance.

Since losing key forward Anfernee McLemore to an ankle fracture one month ago in a loss at South Carolina, Auburn is just 3-3. The Tigers also lost their most important frontcourt piece when Donte Grantham tore an ACL in late January, so they’re relying more on their shooting these days.

Shelton Mitchell, Gabe DeVoe and Marcquise Reed combined to make 20 of 30 shots against an athletic New Mexico State defense that is shut down shooters all season. Many of the looks were well-contested, but the three guards were simply too locked into miss. David Skara joined the Clemson starting lineup to help add more depth to the first five, while Elijah Thomas added 10 rebounds and two blocks.

Neither Bruce Pearl nor Brad Brownell have much depth to lean on. Both will also rely almost entirely on their guards. Harper, Mustapha Heron and Bryce Brown helped Auburn survive Charleston despite combining to shoot 10-for-33, so the three-guard combos involved in this matchup couldn’t come into this Round of 32 game off more different performances.

Despite that, there are striking similarities between personnel and an approach of attacking the boards collectively. Guard play will decide this game, but it probably won't be solely about who shoots it best. Defense, decision-making and perhaps most important, pace, will be major determining factors.

Auburn thrives in chaos and will pressure the Tigers with varying looks and degrees of intensity. Clemson prefers to work the shot clock, searching for the best looks even if it takes all 30 seconds. Brownell doesn't want them sped up, so it will be interesting to see how they strike a balance between attacking the press and making the most of opportunities without getting away from their personality.

Auburn leads the series 15-12, but Clemson won the most recent meeting on Dec. 14, 2015, 72-61. Pearl lost that game against Brownell, but neither had won an NCAA Tournament at their present school until Friday night. Now, one will be headed to the Sweet 16.

The under has prevailed in four of the last five Auburn games, all of which have resulted in ATS losses for Pearl's Tigers. Clemson has covered in each of its last three games, all of which have surpassed the posted total.

Follow Tony Mejia on Twitter at @TonyMejiaNBA or e-mail him at [email protected]

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