UNC Basketball Sweet 16 Gameday Preview: Heels vs Ohio


It’s the Sweet 16!  Top seeded North Carolina Tar Heels take on the surprise #13 seed Ohio Bobcats of the MAC conference.  UNCs terrific play in the month of March has been overshadowed recently by episode II of Wristgate.  After going through a scare in the ACC Tournament when junior forward John Henson suffered a sprained wrist.  Point guard Kendall Marshall suffered a fracture to his right, non-shooting hands wrist against Creighton last week.  Marshall who played about eight minutes with the injury until the victory was sealed for Carolina had successful surgery the next morning.  Whether he plays or not the PG position now has a cloud of uncertainty hanging over it for the rest of the tournament.  The winner in this one will face the winner of the KansasNC State game later on tonight on Sunday in the Elite 8 of the NCAA Tournament and a chance to go to the Final Four.

Getting to know Ohio: Ohio finished third in the MAC with a 29-7 overall, 11-5 conference record this season.  I’m not a fan of the MAC conference whatsoever.  But Ohio’s run in the tournament so far is just another example of why March Madness is so great.  The Bobcats are not particularly impressive statistically either.  This goes especially offensively where Ohio’s best ranking is a mere 117th.  DJ Cooper is the teams leading scorer at 14 per game and is one of just two Bobcat players who average double digits in scoring. Not a particularly good shooting team, the Heels actually pose more firepower from beyond the arc than Ohio.

Defensively the Bobcats have been pretty decent giving up just 61 point per game so far this season.  That stat has to be taken with a grain of salt considering the competition Ohio has faced this season in the MAC conference.  Winners of 10 of their last 11 games they broke into the tournament after winning their conference tournament.  Against all odds they shocked the world against Michigan and beat a tough South Florida team.  This is not a team that scares me in the least bit regardless of whether or not Kendall Marshall plays.  The Heels have to be careful, just like the Wolverines found out, they cannot be taken lightly.

What to Expect:  I expect Carolina to come out with a chip on their shoulder and play like their mad from the gate.  It seems to have served as some motivation when you listen to the Tar Heel players speak about playing without Marshall.  Each player seemed to deliver the same type of response with the same tone that reeked of offended ego.  That’s a good thing for Carolina fans, UNC needs to be aggressive if they are without Marshall.  Even if Kendall plays his normal dose of minutes against Ohio, other players need to step up and take some of the burden off of his shoulders.

Expect Carolina to make a concerted effort to feed the post early and often and emphasize the inside out game in the half court.  Tyler Zeller and John Henson are going to need to have big nights and they know it.  Harrison Barnes has to be the top perimeter threat and look for him to try and get going early offensively.

Do not expect a somber, intimidated, what do we do now, kind of team.  If this injury would have occurred in December or January then you might see some lost puppies out there.  I don’t see that happening at all as UNC seems intent on finishing the journey regardless of who’s running the point.  The game will be a lower scoring affair due to the sheer fact that UNC simply cannot get into their offense nearly as fast if Marshall doesn’t play.  Even if he does play, I expect Roy to try and cut his minutes significantly.  Personally, I’m rooting for him to dress and only play in an emergency because I’m 100% confident Ohio cannot beat this team with or without him.

I do not expect this to be a game in which Carolina has to come back at all.  Simply playing good defense and holding onto an early lead will be enough here.  The Heels won’t be able to blow out the Bobcats, a tough team that has proven they can hang against tough teams.  A double digit win and an Elite 8 birth is just around the corner for UNC.

Keys to Victory: Drum roll please…….Point Guard play will be the key in this one, and that won’t change for the rest of the year.  Whether Kendall Marshall plays or not it’s anyone’s guess as to whether or not the sophomore can remain effective.  If he can’t, UNC could be in big trouble if players like Harrison Barnes don’t step up in a big way.

Typically all Carolina has to do to ensure they get the high tempo, fast paced, transition offense they like is to control the boards.  Then turning it over to Marshall is all the rest of the roster is used to doing.  How will they get into their break if he’s unable to play?  I’ve already suggested the point forward strategy.  It’s clear the team won’t be able to rely on Stillman White and Justin Watts to initiate the break anywhere near Kendall Marshall’s level.  Half court offense and perimeter shooting become bigger keys since Carolina can no longer rely on getting the ball down the court nearly as fast as they are used to.  That means Harrison Barnes, Reggie Bullock and PJ Hairston need to provide a steady dose of reliable shooting.  Barnes especially will be counted on to create offense in the half court both for himself and his teammates.

Bench play is also magnified whenever one of your stars status is uncertain.  For most of the season Carolina has got by mostly on the play of it’s starting five.  With season ending injuries to Dexter Strickland and Leslie McDonald, Roy Williams main options have been two underachieving freshman off the bench.  James Michael McAdoo and PJ Hairston struggled through most of the regular season but have picked up their play in the postseason.  McAdoo has been especially effective as of late, the beneficiary of more playing time when John Henson missed three games due to his own wrist injury.  McAdoo is now playing with confidence and is giving Roy solid minutes off the pine every game.  But UNC needs more from it’s perimeter, especially if Marshall’s out the combination of Reggie Bullock and PJ Hairston will need to provide more offensive punch than we’ve seen from them this season.

Final Score and Player of the Game Predictions:  I expect the Black Falcon to take off.  This is Harrison Barnes’ time of year right now and he’s going to show off his All-American game against Ohio.  In his best performance of the season Barnes comes through with 35 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals in a 72-61 Tar Heel victory.

A look at the numbers: Unlike many of the Tar Heels recent opponents Ohio is not a superior shooting team.  The two teams are dead even in three point and free throw shooting, UNC holds a 3% advantage in overall field goal shooting.  The Heels dominate in the rebounding and assists categories, obviously assists cannot be taken for granted with Marshall’s status up in the air.

OHIO Opponents62.241.372.029.334.310.923.311.
UNC Opponents66.839.467.431.734.511.323.211.513.56.03.420.7
Rank and RecordsOHIOUNC
Strength of Schedule#164#9
Top 251-14-5
RPI Top 503-18-5
#5D. Cooper363632.13914.86135.774.131.63.750.7223.0285.6942.8332.3060.0831.333
#3W. Offutt363629.11111.97244.471.536.43.6391.3612.2781.751.6941.5560.0832.472
#23I. Baltic363327.3068.86147.751.229.45.0281.3333.6941.4441.9440.8330.3332.667
#15N. Kellogg363527.258.83344.
#30R. Keely36321.3339.11151.668.
#21J. Smith363519.6113.66763.768.
#20R. Johnson35113.6293.22944.465.526.32.4860.9431.5430.60.7430.8570.1712.057
#13T. Hall36111.8063.7533.663.328.92.1110.7221.3890.3610.6940.4720.1941.861
#22S. Taylor36011.6394.534.959.130.71.1390.2220.9171.0560.8610.7780.0281.111
#32T. Goard2907.1721.65551.372.70.01.5520.7240.8280.2070.4140.2760.2070.897
#53E. Jacobs1201.8330.16725.
#4D. McKinley1001.
#5K. Marshall363533.0288.13946.769.635.42.6110.1672.4449.752.8061.1940.1671.556
#40H. Barnes363528.7517.30645.072.838.25.1942.03.1940.9721.8331.1390.3611.722
#44T. Zeller363627.66716.36155.
#31J. Henson333228.9713.78850.351.90.010.1212.5767.5451.3031.2420.6062.971.606
#35R. Bullock361624.8068.69442.872.738.04.8891.6393.251.250.9440.6670.1941.194
#43J. McAdoo36315.6675.80641.462.50.03.9171.4442.4720.2780.7220.8330.3331.444
#1D. Strickland191924.2637.47457.
#15P. Hairston35013.1145.91431.
#24J. Watts3616.8331.13940.536.80.01.3060.5560.750.1390.1940.2220.1110.639
#11S. White3204.250.71923.850.020.00.3120.0310.2810.5940.1560.1880.00.812
#14D. Hubert2504.920.6844.
#21J. Simmons2201.9090.68241.

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