3 UNC Tar Heels who have to be better to reach the Sweet 16

March 21, 2024, Charlotte, NC, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels guard Cormac Ryan (3) drives against
March 21, 2024, Charlotte, NC, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels guard Cormac Ryan (3) drives against / Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

The good news for the North Carolina Tar Heels to start March Madness is that Hubert Davis' team ultimately had no problem in the 1-16 matchup in the First Round. The Wagner Seahawks kept things relatively within striking distance throughout most of the first half, but UNC pulled away consistently throughout the second half to notch a 90-62 win and advance to the Round of 32.

As the fourth No. 1 seed in the 2024 NCAA Tournament, though, the Tar Heels have bigger aspirations than just one win in March Madness. In totality, even making the Sweet 16 with another win should just be the first step. But it is an important step, especially with Tom Izzo and Michigan State awaiting UNC in the Second Round of the tournament.

We saw North Carolina's stars ultimately dominate in the win over Wagner. Armando Bacot had a big day with 20 points and 15 rebounds while RJ Davis had 22 points and two assists for the game. Jae'Lyn Withers also came up huge off the bench with 16 points, 10 rebounds, three assists and a steal. But if UNC wants to get past Michigan State and make the Sweet 16, they'll need more players to step up and be better in the Round of 32.

3. Cormac Ryan needs to be a bigger scorer for UNC to reach Sweet 16

Cormac Ryan was a hero in the regular-season finale as he poured 31 points on the rival Duke Blue Devils in Cameron to give the Tar Heels the season sweep on Tobacco Road. He then seemed like he might be ready to gon an absolute tear throughout March as he had 14 points in only 26 minutes in the first win of the ACC Tournament.

The following two games, however, were less than ideal. He shot just 3-of-16 from the field and 2-of-11 from deep in the final two games of the conference tournament. And to be sure, he was better than that against Wagner, finishing the victory with 13 points while shooting 5-of-11 from the field and 2-of-6 from 3-point range. But the Heels could need more from Ryan than that.

With the focus that's paid to RJ Davis on the perimeter, getting Ryan open looks beyond-the-arc is a huge key for the UNC offense. It opens up the floor in a big way and gives the Tar Heels a reliable outside shooter who is able to change momentum and really help North Carolina get hot as a cohesive unit. When he's pedestrian, that can sometimes fall by the wayside.

Michigan State under Tom Izzo is going to scheme up ways to try and stifle the Davis and Bacot combo. That's going to make players like Ryan all the more crucial to UNC's success and, while there were signs in the win over Wagner that he could be back in form and ready to shine, he may need to simply show that in full-force against Sparty.

2. Harrison Ingram needs to be in the mix way more for UNC to reach Sweet 16

The arrival of Stanford transfer Harrison Ingram was vital to UNC's success throughout the regular season and ultimately earning a 1-seed in March Madness. His inside-out play offensively, his elite reboundng for a wing, and his versatile defensive presence has given the Tar Heels a major boost in virtually every facet of the game.

Unfortunately, we didn't totally see that from Ingram in the win over Wagner. His stat line was about as pedestrian as it gets, coming through with nine points, five rebounds, one steal, and one block. He wasn't a detriment, especially with just one turnover, but he didn't have nearly the impact on many games that we've seen throughout the year, especially taking only seven shots (4-of-7 overall, 1-of-2 from 3-point range).

Ingram's offensive impact has been lesser of late than it was at various points over the season. He was a combined 7-of-23 from the field in the three ACC Tournament games and only 5-of-15 from 3-point range in that span as well. But he also averaged more than six rebounds per game, and that was with having only three in the loss to NC State.

Especially against the Spartans, we need to see Ingram attack the glass harder and join Bacot in really controlling the boards. That will be a big factor to North Carolina's success. And if he can also pick up the offensive output, that definitely wouldn't hurt matters either.

1. Elliot Cadeau has to mature quickly for UNC to reach Sweet 16

Throughout much of the season, freshman Elliot Cadeau, who reclassified as part of the 2023 class from 2024 to join the Tar Heels, has been a much-needed presence in the offense. His ability to push the pace, create passing lanes, and simply make some ridiculously high-level passing to give guys good looks, something that's even developed further throughout the year.

Unfortunately, the bright lights of the NCAA Tournament seemed to have an adverse effect on the freshman on Thursday afternoon. Cadeau didn't get on the board with any scoring, which is fine, especially going just 0-for-2 from the floor. But if that's the case, then you'd like to see the point guard make an impact elsewhere.

That wasn't entirely the case. Yes, Cadeau notched three assists and three rebounds, but his effect on the game was minimal in that capacity, particularly by his standards. What was worse, though, was the four turnovers. That didn't hurt the Tar Heels too greatly against Wagner, but against an experienced Michigan State backcourt, it could mean some trouble.

Cadeau has given UNC fans plenty of reason to believe in him throughout the year, but there's no question that he needs to be much better moving forward in March Madness, potentially right away if the Heels want to keep dancing into the second weekend of the tournament.

If you want to increase the excitement of watching March Madness, FanDuel has a $200 promo for new users. Just click this link and sign up for FanDuel, deposit at least $10 into your account, and wager $5 on ANY March Madness game. If you do that, you get $200 in bonus bets which you can use to bet on anything you want, including the NCAA Tournament. It's the best offer on the best sports betting app out there, so sign up for FanDuel today and get your bet in now before this offer ends.