UNC Basketball: Elite 8 Preview, Tar Heels vs Kansas


The North Carolina Tar Heels take on the Kansas Jayhawks in the Elite 8 of the NCAA Tournament.  All the talk around Carolina is the status of point guard Kendall Marshall.  Marshall sat out the Heels Sweet 16 victory against Ohio after fracturing his right wrist against Creighton.  Tar Heel Nation will have to hold its breath again as Marshall is a game time decision for today’s match up.  For more on Marshall’s status click HERE.  The Heels received yet another injury scare on the perimeter against Ohio.  Reggie Bullock tweaked his knee in the second half and had to exit the game.  Bullock later returned and it has said he is fine.  The winner of this one will head to New Orleans to face Ohio State who defeated Syracuse Saturday in the Final Four.

Getting to know Kansas: The Jayhawks finished the regular season ranked one spot behind Carolina at #5 in the nation.  With a 30-6 overall, 16-2 conference record.  Kansas split their season series with both Missouri and Baylor also losing to Kentucky, Duke, Iowa State and Davidson.  After a tough early season schedule that saw them drop two of their first five games and three of ten.  Kansas battled back winning ten in a row to climb back into the top 10 in the national rankings.  After losing to Baylor in the Big 12 tournament Kansas was assigned the #2 seed in the Mid-West bracket.  Setting up a showdown of UNC vs Roy’s former team, Kansas.  After blowing out Detroit in the opening round of the tourney, the Jayhawks have survived two close games winning by three points against Purdue and NC State to reach the Elite 8.

Led by first team All-American Thomas Robinson and senior Tyshawn Taylor Kansas is not a team that dazzles on paper offensively.  Ranking just 42nd in the nation in scoring, Kansas averages just 74ppg and it’s 21st national ranking in shooting percentage is their highest offensive ranking.  Defense and where this team shines, Jayhawk opponents shoot an average of just 37.8%, second in the nation.  While Taylor plays second fiddle to Robinson he is a star in his own right and will command a lot of defensive attention.

What to expect: This game is so hard to predict with the uncertainty surrounding the PG position.  Either way I think we’re in for a dog fight.  Although I’d love to think he could, I just don’t see Kendall Marshall playing like himself all game, the wrist will be a factor one way or another.  That means somebody needs to step up for UNC and after a horrible performance against Ohio my eye is on Harrison Barnes.

I expect a low scoring affair, neither team shoots the ball well from three with both teams at 34%.  That coupled with a slower than usual Tar Heels team against a very good defensive team in Kansas, expect this game to look a lot like the Ohio game.  A back and forth slug fest that comes down to the last few minutes is what’s in store for these heavyweights.

A slow tempo game with both teams trying to figure out how to be effective in the half court is highly likely.  Kansas will need to find a way to score inside against a very tough front line Carolina defense led by John Henson and Tyler Zeller.  Carolina will have to figure out how to keep the ball moving and find a way to consistently feed the post, something they got away from for long stretches against Ohio.

After a couple key adjustments at half time, Carolina will make the only big run by either team of the game to kick off the second half.  After taking an eight point lead, another Kansas surge will tie it up with around two minutes to go.  That’s when the game will come down to Thomas Robinson vs Harrison Barnes.  After the tying bucket by Robinson, Barnes will go on a frantic scoring pace accounting for eight straight Carolina points to put Kansas away.

Keys to victory: Stopping Thomas Robinson is the key defensively for Carolina.  Tightening up the perimeter defense will be huge, but containing Robinson will be just as important.  Robinson is a complete and dominate player who can do just about everything on the court.  The junior forward burst onto the scene this season more than doubling his points per game average from 7.6 as a sophomore to 17.7 this season.  Robinson is almost equally as dominate on the glass averaging 11.9 rebounds per game to go along with his sparkling offensive game.

Point Guard play this is the biggest and most mysterious as we won’t know who’s playing the point until tip-off.  After that, if Marshall does play, it’s anybody’s guess how long he lasts and how effective his play is.  Stillman White played well against Ohio in his first career start. White was strong defensively and committed zero turnovers.  But without Marshall UNC was unable to get into their fast break and the half court offense went stagnant for much of the game.  As efficient as White is, he’s no Kendall Marshall.  If Marshall sits this one out also, Roy Williams needs to rethink playing Justin Watts at the point where he struggled against Ohio.  Watts is not a natural PG and when White needs a breather the team would be better suited going with Harrison Barnes or Reggie Bullock handling the ball.

Perimeter defense, the Heels perimeter defense broke down and gave Ohio way too many open shots.  If that sounds familiar then your paying attention, this has been a problem for UNC all season long.  Especially after hot starts like they had in the first eight minutes against the Bobcats.  Carolina needs to do a better job of fighting through screens and staying at home against their man.  Ohio missed a lot of wide open shots that Kansas would make.

Final score & player of the game predictions: In a dogfight the Tar Heels pull out the victory 72-70.  Harrison Barnes comes out on a mission and succeeds after a horrible performance in the Sweet 16.  Barnes keeps Carolina in it with a huge first half and puts them over the top in the game’s closing minutes.  Barnes finishes with 32 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 steals.  In other words, The Black Falcon makes his return.

A look at the numbers:

KU Opponents61.437.871.534.331.910.821.
UNC Opponents66.739.267.732.034.411.223.211.613.56.23.420.8
Rank and RecordsKUUNC
Strength of Schedule#17#9
Top 255-44-5
RPI Top 5012-59-5
#10T. Taylor363533.16716.55648.068.639.92.1670.1941.9724.6943.4721.250.1672.028
#15E. Johnson363532.08310.02843.169.833.33.0560.3612.6943.5831.751.4720.0562.361
#0T. Robinson363631.61117.69451.767.446.211.9172.8899.0281.9442.7781.1390.9442.806
#24T. Releford363530.6118.38949.564.930.74.2781.6392.6391.8611.01.1390.1942.111
#5J. Withey363624.2789.05653.679.20.06.1942.0834.1110.7781.250.6113.52.472
#2C. Teahan36221.4175.83337.283.934.22.1670.6671.51.0281.00.7220.0281.694
#40K. Young35011.23.65751.
#4J. Wesley3608.9441.19455.
#1N. Tharpe3205.4690.90628.950.027.30.3120.0940.2190.6560.6880.2190.00.375
#25J. Juenemann1513.1331.26744.433.316.70.5330.0670.4670.1330.1330.0670.0670.267
#31J. Traylor1137.012.035.750.
#22M. Lindsay1102.3641.
#5K. Marshall363533.0288.13946.769.635.42.6110.1672.4449.752.8061.1940.1671.556
#40H. Barnes373629.05417.16244.272.637.15.2431.9733.271.0541.9191.1080.3511.73
#44T. Zeller373728.016.45955.380.80.09.7033.8925.8110.9461.9190.9191.4592.703
#31J. Henson343329.23513.79450.351.10.010.1182.5887.5291.2941.2940.5882.9411.559
#35R. Bullock371725.2438.91943.072.738.75.0271.6763.3511.3510.9730.6760.2161.189
#43J. McAdoo37315.5415.81142.
#15P. Hairston36012.9725.80631.
#1D. Strickland191924.2637.47457.
#24J. Watts3717.0541.10840.536.80.01.3780.5680.8110.1620.270.2160.1350.649
#11S. White3315.0910.75820.054.518.80.3030.030.2730.7580.1520.2120.00.879
#14D. Hubert2504.920.6844.
#21J. Simmons2201.9090.68241.

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