Tar Heels draw Providence in NCAA opener

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North Carolina will face surprise Big East champion Providence in its opening game of the NCAA tournament in San Antonio.

The Friars (23-11), seeded 11th in the East, stunned Creighton 65-58 on Saturday to earn the Big East’s automatic berth. The championship is the first for Providence since 1994 and it’s also the program’s first NCAA trip since 2004.

The Tar Heels (23-9), a No. 6 seed, have had a wild season. Despite playing all season without top scorer P.J. Hairston due to NCAA violations, they beat the top four teams from the preseason Top 25 - Kentucky, Michigan State, Louisville and Duke - while also losing to Belmont and UAB.

They started 0-3 in the ACC before going on a 12-game winning streak led by all-Atlantic Coast Conference performer Marcus Paige, but lost at Duke in their regular-season finale then fell behind by 20 points before rallying late in an ACC tournament quarterfinal loss to Pittsburgh.

It’s the first time the Tar Heels head into the tournament with two straight losses since 2003-04, coach Roy Williams’ first season.

“We have had some outstanding wins this year, both in and out of league play, over teams that received some very high seeds in the field, so we know we are capable,” UNC coach Roy Williams said in a statement Sunday night. “But we must play better than we have over the last two weeks if we want to reach our big-time dreams.”

The teams play Friday, their first meeting since 1979 and only their fourth ever.

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