UNC Basketball Game Review: Elite 8 Tar Heels vs Kansas Jayhawks


UNC 67 Kansas 80 FINAL

When the brackets were announced on Selection Sunday I rejoiced at the notion of this Elite 8 contest against Roy Williams current and former teams.  North Carolina vs Kansas in a #1 vs #2 seed match-up for the regional championship, what could be better?  Well, for starters a little K-Butter would make things a whole lot finer for Carolina.  News spread early Sunday afternoon from unnamed team sources that Tar Heel point guard Kendall Marshall will not play today against Kansas.  Unless Kendall experiences a sudden miracle healing, it looks like the Heels will be stuck to fend without their floor general once again.  After needing overtime to defeat #13 seed Ohio in the Sweet 16, I have to admit, I’m extremely nervous going into this game.

How it went down: Both teams started out shooting well with UNC hitting five of their first seven and Kansas going five of nine.  It wasn’t the perimeter defense, instead, early in this one the interior defense looked suspect.  In a back and forth, higher paced game than I expected early on, Kansas led 12-10 at the first TV timeout.  It didn’t take long for Carolina to experience their first injury scare when John Henson was seen grabbing his ankle before the TO.  Tyler Zeller started out just where he left off scoring eight quick points on 4-4 shooting.  James Michael McAdoo came in and instantly put an imprint on the game with a few quick scores including an amazing transition dunk.

Carolinas hot shooting continued and nine minutes into the game, Carolina was 11-13 from the field and led by two.  Amazingly, without Marshall, Carolina assisted on nine of their first twelve.  McAdoo continued to dominate with 12 points, two steals and a solid defensive effort with Henson on the bench.  Harrison Barnes was not very aggressive early offensively shooting just one shot in the games first 11 minutes.  Both teams were fabulous offensively early and this was easily one of the most entertaining games I’ve seen this season.

While UNC was much more efficient offensively, they still had a tough time adjusting beyond their first set and the pick and roll was non-existent.  As Carolina came more inefficient in the half court, Kansas was able to build a five point lead at 38-33 with five minutes left.  The lead extended to seven in the midst of a 12-2 run by Kansas.  The Jayhawks did a nice job of forcing Carolina into half court sets by backing off their initial pressure defense which UNC shredded early.

Perhaps the biggest story of the first half for me, Harrison Barnes with zero points through 16 and a half minutes.  Both of Barnes shots were for three and he looked terrible trying to operate without Marshall feeding him.  The back and forth frenzy continued and I was immediately contradicted in my criticism of Barnes.  The sophomore threw down back to back dunks to pull the Heels within three with just over three minutes to play in the half. He then put the Tar Heels back on top with a baseline turn around jumper.

A great sign for Carolina, when John Henson returned to the lineup, Thomas Robinson who started off 6-10 from the field with 14 points, came to an abrupt halt.  Stillman White played terrific in the first half, he tallied six assists which matched his entire output Friday against Ohio.  After a turnover by Barnes and a transition layup for Kansas we’re all knotted up at 47 at the half.

Kansas found a way to out rebound the Tar Heels in the first half by spreading the defense in the half court and drawing the interior defenders away from their position.  In the second half UNC needs to play a more disciplined, stay at home style of defense.  Robinson and Tyshawn Taylorboth had stellar first halves.  They did most of their damage with Henson on the bench, at the break, Roy Williams has to be absolutely thrilled with his team.  In an eye-popping turnaround from Friday’s game UNC shot 63.6%, from the field but allowed Kansas to shoot 56.3%.

Score at the half, UNC 47 Kansas 47

In the second half, the intense energy was there for both teams.  Kansas executed well in the half court and drew two quick fouls on Tyler Zeller putting him at three for the game with 18:35 to go in the game.  Kansas took a quick five point lead and stole the momentum early.  Carolinas half court offense went stagnant early and Carolina struggled just to get off a shot.  Sensing the urgency of the moment, Roy Williams kept Zeller in the game despite his three fouls.  Carolina did not score in the first three minutes of the half and fell behind by seven, 54-47 at the 17 minute mark.  Barnes finally hit an open look for the first score of the half.

Roy’s gamble of keeping Zeller in the game paid off.  Three quick buckets were scored or assisted by “Big Z” for a fast 6-0 run that put Carolina down just two.  This game continued to refuse to sway from the trend and continued to seesaw back and forth.  Kansas swung back with a 5-0 run of it’s own to regain control.  With 11:52 left, I was 100% convinced no matter what type of run either team made, this game was going to go down to the wire.

Kansas put together a strong 6-0 run when Carolina fell back into lazy half court habits and handed them the ball on consecutive possessions.  A five point lead was stalled by a terrific pass in the lane to a cutting McAdoo for the three point play.  The TV timeout at the 6:32 mark, Carolina trailed by four 68-64 in a thriller.

Roy Williams called a quick TO after going with Watts at PG and went back to his starters with just over four minutes left trailing two.  Barnes hit one of two FTs to cut the lead to one.  A big three by Elijah Johnson at the three minute mark pushed the lead to four.  Carolina was in the bonus and had just four defensive fouls against them with 2:30 left.  After a turnover led to a transition basket by Taylor, the Jayhawks had their biggest lead since early in the first half up seven after the three point play.  With under two minutes left, Stillman White was rejected and the lead was extended to nine with 1:30 left.  Suddenly the game was out of control, an 8-0 run put Kansas in prime position to win the game.

Roy Williams called a desperation timeout with 1:13 left, after White missed a wide open three, UNCs hopes were all but squashed as they began to intentionally foul the Jayhawks.  And that was it, the classless Kansas fans started a stupid chant taunting Carolina and ended up winning by 13 after all the FTs.  Kansas finished on a 12-0 run in the final three plus minutes of action.  I can’t lie, I’m torn up right now, if only Kendall Marshall wasn’t mugged by Creighton thugs what might have been.

Key Takeaways: It is no longer debatable, freshman James Michael McAdoo has arrived.  McAdoo looks smooth and comfortable on both ends of the floor.  He’s starting to look like the monster, athletic freak that everybody saw during his high school days.  This kids ceiling is as high as any player in the country.  Don’t be surprised if McAdoo goes from a modest reserve as a freshman to the Heels best player as a sophomore and contends for a spot on the All-American team.

Harrison Barnes looked terrible trying to operate without Marshall feeding him.  Barnes needs to seriously rethink any potential NBA plans he may or may not have and return to Chapel Hill.  Despite eventually getting it going and making a few eye popping plays.  Barnes game is far from polished enough to create at the pro level.

Stillman White has played well enough that I firmly believe if the Marshall injury happened early in the year.  The team would have adjusted and remained a contender.  The team on the court today looked completely different than the one against Ohio on Friday and given time this team would have found a way to compensate.

Player of the game: Nobody really stepped up for Carolina the way Zeller did against Ohio.  Offensively the attack was balanced by Zeller, McAdoo, Henson and Barnes for most of the game.  And that ended up being the problem with nobody playing with the hot hand late in the ballgame, UNC completely fell apart.  Kansas POG has to be Tyshawn Taylor with 21 points and 6 rebounds.

Up next: It’s off to New Orleans for the Final 4 for Kansas.  A disappointing end to the season for UNC.  It’s not the end of the season for us here at Keeping It Heel.  We hope you’ll keep visiting the site everyday to keep up on everything UNC.  We’ll continue to bring you all the recruiting, football and baseball news as well as our reflections on the season.

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