North Carolina will meet fellow blue-blood UCLA for just the 3rd time in the NCAA Tournament on Friday night when the two storied programs face off in Philadelphia (9:40 p.m., CBS).

The Bruins, seeded 4th in the East Region, are the higher seed and are 3-point favorites as of Wednesday afternoon. UCLA is seeking its 2nd consecutive Elite 8 appearance under coach Mick Cronin. The Tar Heels, meanwhile, are in the unfamiliar (by UNC standards) role of plucky underdog, coming off 2 impressive victories in the first and second round, including the overtime thriller over defending national champion Baylor. One blue-blood will march on; the other will hang another Sweet 16 banner and wonder what might have been in a region that arrives in Philadelphia missing both its 1 and 2 seeds.

Here are 3 key questions for the Tar Heels that could define Friday night’s game.

1. Will the Tar Heels’ defense continue to play at an elite level?

Heading into February, North Carolina had a defense ranked outside of the top 75 in Adjusted KenPom Defensive Efficiency and were a pedestrian 15-6 team without a Quad 1 victory. The Tar Heels have won 11 of their 14 games since, collecting multiple wins over NCAA Tournament teams, including impressive road wins at Virginia Tech and Duke, spoiling Coach K’s final game at Cameron Indoor. The key to all of it has been an improved defense, especially over the past month. Per BartTorvik, the Tar Heels have had a top-20 defense in the sport since an embarrassing home defeat to lowly Pittsburgh in Chapel Hill on Feb. 16. That stretch includes both the aforementioned road wins, as well as 2 NCAA Tournament games where North Carolina held their opponents to under .85 points per possession, per Hoops Lens. The Bruins aren’t quite as efficient on offense as Duke or Baylor, but they are a top 15 KenPom offense that limits turnovers and makes you defend for 30 seconds.

North Carolina has scored points all season. They scored 95 points and 96 in rounds 1 and 2, respectively, and even though the 96 against Baylor came in overtime, they managed that point total against what had been one of the nation’s best defensive teams. North Carolina will score on anyone, but they became a legitimate Final Four contender when they started to defend. The defense has to travel to Philadelphia this weekend.

2. Is this version of RJ Davis real?

You know the version of the North Carolina sophomore guard we’re talking about. The one that just poured in a career-high 30 points and shot 5-of-10 from deep against No. 1 seed Baylor in the NCAA Tournament. The one who made the Baylor defense extend with his sniper skills and then took it to the tin and finished with the game in the balance.

The guy so valuable to the offense that he played all 45 minutes, with Hubert Davis unable to give him even a moment to rest. The one who even without rest dove for a loose ball with 25 seconds left and the Tar Heels up 6, because if Baylor showed us anything Saturday, it was that they weren’t going away without a fight. The guy that had 21 points and added 2 steals and salty defense in Carolina’s stunning win at Cameron Indoor to close the regular season.

Here’s the thing: Davis can impact the game even when he isn’t hitting shots. He showed that against Marquette, when he went 1-for-10 from the floor but dished out a staggering 12 assists in the Tar Heels’ 32-point romp. In North Carolina’s 2 wins, Davis became the first UNC player in tournament history to follow a 10-assist game with a 30-point game. That’s incredible stuff.

The Tar Heels will just need more of the blossoming star come Friday night.

3. Will Brady Manek maintain the magic touch?

Manek played only 59 of the possible 85 minutes in North Carolina’s first 2 tournament games, thanks to his controversial (err, awful) ejection for a loose elbow with 10 minutes to play in the Baylor game. Manek made those minutes count, scoring 53 points and connecting on 9-of-18 3-point attempts. Manek’s ability to score in the post has always made it hard for defenses to crowd him on the perimeter, and it’s that two-way offensive versatility that makes him North Carolina’s biggest matchup threat to UCLA on Friday night.

Manek’s importance to North Carolina’s spacing, the effectiveness of their perimeter shooting, and their general offensive rhythm can’t be undersold: remember the Tar Heels had only 8 turnovers and were leading by 25 points when Manek was ejected against Baylor. The Tar Heels turned it over 13 times and coughed up the entirety of the 25-point lead before gutting out a win in overtime. The difference in Carolina’s effectiveness on offense in the NCAA Tournament without Manek? A whopping .22 points per possession, per Hoops Lens.

The Tar Heels are 22-4 when Manek scores 11 or more points. Do the math and that means they are 4-5 when he scores 10 or less. A super senior playing his final collegiate games, Manek has the look of a grown man on a mission. That can be special in March. If that’s who shows up Friday night, the Tar Heels will be moving on to the Elite 8.