The North Carolina men’s basketball team’s long wait for NCAA Tournament play is now over.

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“When we won twelve in a row, everybody was wondering if we were going to get complacent. Human nature is to tend to slip if you allow them to slip. I did a bad job because we slipped in an area that I think is extremely important,” Coach Williams says.

And that area of “extreme importance” is rebounding. In their last two games, both losses, the Tar Heels were dominated on the boards, a place where UNC once dominated opponents themselves.

Sophomore point guard Marcus Paige points out another area of the game he thinks the Tar Heels need to incorporate more in their NCAA Tournament game against the Big East Tournament champions, the Providence Friars. He says Carolina needs to get back to running the floor and taking advantage of fast break opportunities.

“When we start running better and playing defense better, I think that gets more opportunities for other guys. We can get breakouts for J.P. [Tokoto] or we can get a guy in the post and have that be our first option, whether that is Kennedy [Meeks] or Brice [Johnson]. I think it starts with us running the ball better. We’ve done a terrible job of getting down in transition lately,” Paige says.

Intense focus and urgency from Paige (Todd Melet)

Intense focus and urgency from Paige (Todd Melet)

One player Carolina will have to watch out for is Bryce Cotton. Cotton averages 21.4 points per game and plays a whopping 96 percent of the minutes for the Friars. And you thought Marcus Paige played a lot?

Remarkably, from Feb. 10 to March 8, Cotton didn’t have a single game where he scored less than 20 points. Coach Williams says he’s an absolute nightmare to defend.

“When the guy who’s dominating the ball is also the best scorer, it’s hard to get it out of his hands. […] He’s a load when you start looking at those stats. He’s had an incredible year,” Coach Williams says.

Despite the slide to end the season, Coach Williams says he’s liked what he’s seen from his players since the early exit at the ACC Tournament.

“They really had a great attitude. They were excited about practice. They worked hard – very vocal. You never can tell. They’re 18, 19, 20, 21 years old. I really do believe they understand what they’re getting into. I think they understand that we need to do a little more what I call ‘investing’. I like our attitude,” Coach Williams says.

An impressive streak will be on the line for Coach Williams Friday night when his Tar Heels take on the Friars. He’s won at least one game in each of his last 23 NCAA Tournament appearances.