Can the Tide Take Down UNC?

NASHVILLE, TN - JANUARY 06: An Alabama Crimson Tide A on a playerÕs uniform shorts during a game between the Vanderbilt Commodores and Alabama Crimson Tide, January 6, 2024 at Memorial Gymnasium in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Matthew Maxey/Icon Sportswire)

(Photo by Matthew Maxey/Icon Sportswire)

The Alabama Crimson Tide did its job and advanced to the Sweet Sixteen after victories over College of Charleston and Grand Canyon this past weekend.

The Tide’s reward for advancing is the biggest game of its season, a matchup with the West region’s No. 1 seed North Carolina.

In the Sweet Sixteen historically, Alabama has not fared well. The Tide have advanced to the Elite Eight just once in 11 attempts, holding a 1-10 record in this round.

Last season, a team that was among the most talented in Crimson Tide history and won both the SEC regular season title, SEC Tournament, and earned the program’s first ever No. 1 seed fell to San Diego State in the Sweet Sixteen.

At times down the stretch this season, it felt like even a second weekend run would not be likely from Alabama, with the Tide falling in four of its final six games before the NCAA Tournament.

But over the first weekend of the big dance, Alabama has turned up the intensity on the defensive end with two of its better performances of the season.

Now its biggest test awaits in the Tar Heels, who are extremely efficient on both sides of the ball. UNC is rated as the No. 17 offense in the nation as well as the No. 6 defense (per KenPom) and earned a No. 1 seed by cruising to an ACC regular season title with a 17-3 record.

The point spread opened at 3.5 in favor of UNC and has since shifted up to 4.5. Armando Bacot is experienced and one of the best big men in the country and will almost assuredly give Alabama trouble.

But Bacot is far from the only firepower in the Tar Heels lineup.

Alabama fans will be familiar with Cormac Ryan as well. Before UNC, Ryan was at Notre Dame and was instrumental in the Irish taking down Alabama in the first round two years ago, scoring 29 points on 7 of 9 from the three point line.

Throw in the fact that guard RJ Davis is among the best players in all of college basketball, averaging over 21 points per game, and the Crimson Tide will have its hands full.

In order to even stay in the game, Alabama will need its best defensive effort of the season. But even if that were the case, UNC is still going to score and Alabama will need one of its best shooting performances as well.

The health of Latrell Wrightsell Jr. remains a question mark, but his shot making and defensive ability can shift things in a matchup like this.

On paper, North Carolina should win this game.

But Alabama has looked like a different team over the first two rounds, and if the Tide bring its best game, Nate Oats and company will certainly have a shot to advance to Alabama’s first Elite Eight since 2004 and second in program history.