SAN ANTONIO – While the point-guard matchup between Providence’s Bryce Cotton and North Carolina’s Marcus Paige has been the talk de jour leading up to Friday’s NCAA Tournament contest, there’s a frontcourt bout that could prove as important in deciding the outcome.
In Brice Johnson, the Tar Heels have an athletic 6-foot-9, 210-pound forward who is bouncy in every sense. The book on the sophomore is that he is very opportunistic and likes to get ahead of the pack. Needless to say, it will be important for PC’s collection of bigs – particularly Kadeem Batts and Carson Desrosiers – to not lose sight of Johnson when he gathers a head of steam and streaks into open space.
Ed Cooley admitted Thursday that the Friars haven’t run across a frontcourt player of Johnson’s ilk this season, hence why the head coach elected to dust off several game tapes from last season, most notably against Syracuse and Baylor.
“I think they have the fastest big man that I’ve played against since I’ve been a head coach,” stated Cooley. “Transition defense is probably 1A, 1B, 1C and 1D. When you play against North Carolina, you’re always playing against their transition.”
Added Desrosiers, “One of the ways they like to score is in transition, so it’s been a focal point in our scouting. (Johnson) is athletic and likes to get up and down the floor. We need to keep him off the glass and run with him.”
Johnson ranks third on the Tar Heels in scoring despite starting just two games all season, his 10.4 points per game average trailing only Paige (17.4 ppg) and James Michael McAdoo (14.2 ppg). He tops UNC in field-goal percentage (56 percent) and is second in rebounding (6.2). He shot 50 percent or better in 21 of Carolina’s 32 games this season.
“Brice is a big weapon for us. When he’s going, we’re a lot better as a team, especially offensively,” said UNC’s Paige. “We need to establish him as one of our dominant weapons, especially going forward because he’s a tough matchup for a lot of people. If we get the Brice that’s active and into the game, we’re going to be a tough team to beat.”
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03