College Basketball Nation: 2012 Midwest Regional

ST. LOUIS -- It was an eerily familiar scene Sunday: a moist-eyed Harrison Barnes emerging from a long lament under a locker-room towel; talking about what went wrong, the sudden-ness of losing, the disappointment of falling one game short of the Final Four.

A season ago at Newark's Prudential Center, UNC’s loss in the NCAA regional final felt like it could be a beginning – a learning process for a young team that wasn’t supposed to make it that far.

This time, though, the 80-67 crumble to Kansas at the Edward Jones Dome felt like the end – a goodbye from a squad that expected to go so much farther.

“This year, going into this season, we had a lot of weapons,’’ Barnes said. “We just didn’t have them all at the end. That was the most devastating thing. We didn’t have Kendall [Marshall], we didn’t have Dex [Strickland], we didn’t have Leslie [McDonald]. That’s no excuse. We had an opportunity to win it, we just didn’t.”

Even with McDonald and Strickland (shooting guards relegated to the sidelines since last summer and January, respectively, with knee injuries) sitting in the stands -- and Marshall (the starting point guard who missed his second consecutive game with a fractured wrist) on the bench in street clothes -- the Tar Heels looked as if they could do again what they’ve been doing so often the past two seasons: overcome.

[+] EnlargeHarrison Barnes
AP Photo/Jeff Roberson"We had an opportunity to win it," said sophomore Harrison Barnes, here in the locker room after Sunday's loss to Kansas, "we just didn't."
With freshman Stilman White playing fearlessly in his second straight start, UNC pushed back from multiple Jayhawks surges. When Kansas made a 7-0 run in the first half to take a 40-33 lead, UNC countered with an 8-0 rally.

When the Jayhawks opened the second half with another 7-0 run, the Tar Heels came back again, this time 6-0.

That’s why, when Barnes went to the free throw line to try to knot the score with 3:58 left, teammate James Michael McAdoo (15 points) wasn’t worried. “I was like, ‘All right, we’re good,’” the freshman forward said.

Except, they weren’t.

Barnes made one of two free throws to cut the Jayhawks’ lead to 68-67 lead. But then a turnover by Tar Heels sophomore Reggie Bullock turned into a 3-pointer by Kansas’ Elijah Johnson. Barnes, then forward John Henson (who played most of the game on a twisted ankle) missed jumpers. And White – who finished with 13 assists and zero turnovers in his two starts in place of Marshall – fouled Tyshawn Taylor for a 3-point play to give the Jayhawks a 74-67 advantage.

That’s when, as coach Roy Williams said, “we panicked a little bit out there.”

Utilizing a triangle-and-two defense – something the Tar Heels hadn’t faced in a game before this season – Kansas finished the game on a 12-0 run.

UNC, meanwhile, misfired on its final seven shots after the Barnes free throw and finished with its worst field goal percentage in a half in NCAA tournament history (7-31, 22.6 percent). The Tar Heels also recorded their worst 3-point percentage in an NCAA tournament game (2-17, 11.8 percent).

Yes, they missed Marshall, a Cousy Award finalist who had been key to calming, and creating for, his teammates.

But the Tar Heels also missed the rebounding advantage they had prided themselves on all season (Kansas beat them on the boards 41-35). And they missed the accuracy of Barnes, their leading scorer who finished 5-for-14 Sunday and 20-for-61 in four NCAA tournament games.

“I missed a lot of shots I usually make and big-time players come through in big-time games,” the sophomore said. “And it just wasn’t there tonight.”

Now the question is, will it ever be again (at least in a UNC uniform)?

Barnes, Henson, Marshall and McAdoo (who are all considered first round NBA draft choices) shrugged off questions about their futures, saying they weren’t thinking about their next steps during the NCAA tournament. So it’s still unknown who or how many will leave along with scholarship seniors Tyler Zeller and Justin Watts; White (who is leaving for a two-year Mormon mission after this semester); and walk-ons David Dupont, Patrick Crouch and Stewart Cooper.

A year ago, after crying under towels in the locker room, Barnes, Henson and Zeller ultimately returned, saying the goal was to win a national title. There was a sense, even before their official decisions were announced, of what could be.

Sunday, there was more disappointment about what might have been.

“We got to this point last year, and we couldn’t get over the hill,’’ said Henson, who playing with a pain shot and numbing cream on his still-healing left wrist. “And this year, the same way. It hurts. But that’s just how basketball is.”

Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.

Video: Breaking down Kansas' win

March, 25, 2012

The College GameDay crew talks about Kansas' second-half defense and the impact of center Jeff Withey in the Jayhawks' 80-67 win over North Carolina on Sunday.

ST. LOUIS -- Quick thoughts from Kansas' 80-67 victory over North Carolina in the Elite Eight on Sunday at the Edward Jones Dome.

Overview: Tyshawn Taylor scored 22 points and Thomas Robinson added 18 to lead Kansas to a 13-point victory over North Carolina and a berth in the Final Four. The Jayhawks, the No. 2 seed in the Midwest Region, will take on Ohio State on Saturday night in New Orleans.

This marks the second time in four years that KU has advanced to college basketball's final weekend. The Jayhawks won the NCAA title in 2008. This will also be the second Final Four appearance in Bill Self's career. The Kansas coach was 1-5 in the Elite Eight before Sunday.

Sunday's win came against a North Carolina squad that was playing without All-America point guard Kendall Marshall, who ranks second in the nation in assists with 9.8 per game. Marshall injured his wrist in the round-of-32 victory over Creighton on March 18 and didn't play at all this weekend in St. Louis.

Still, top-seeded North Carolina gave KU all it could handle until the game's final few minutes, when a 3-pointer by Elijah Johnson stretched the Jayhawks' lead to 71-67 and ignited a 12-0, game-ending run.

The score was tied 47-47 after a first half that saw UNC make 63 percent of its shots from the field, with KU hitting 56 percent.

James Michael McAdoo had a team-high 15 points for North Carolina, which ends its season 32-6.

Turning point: Johnson's 3-pointer was the spark in KU's finishing kick, but the shot was hardly the only heroic moment of the march. A few possessions later, Taylor came up with a steal and raced down the court on a fast-break. He was fouled hard while attempting a layup but somehow hung in the air, double-clutched and scored. He converted the 3-point play to make it 74-67 with 1:59 remaining. North Carolina never threatened again.

Key player: Taylor's 22 points came on 10-of-19 shooting. He also had 5 assists and 5 steals. Robinson made just 6 of his 16 shots, but he grabbed 9 boards and helped KU out-rebound a UNC squad that features three future lottery picks down low in McAdoo, Tyler Zeller and John Henson. Jeff Withey's three blocks and overall presence was also a big factor for Kansas.

Key stat: North Carolina was just 2-of-17 from 3-point range. The Tar Heels shot just 22.6 percent overall in the second half.

Up next: Kansas' game against Ohio State on Saturday will mark the second time the Jayhawks and Buckeyes have played this season. KU won the first meeting 78-67 in Lawrence, but standout Ohio State forward Jared Sullinger didn't play because of back spasms.

Video: UNC without Kendall Marshall

March, 25, 2012

Rece Davis, Jay Bilas and Hubert Davis break down what North Carolina misses without point guard Kendall Marshall.
Two down. Two more to go.

Ohio State and Louisville locked up their trips to the Final Four on Saturday. Now four more teams will look to secure the final two spots this afternoon.

Today’s matchups feature three traditional powerhouse programs that are quite familiar with this stage of the NCAA tournament. The fourth participant, Baylor, is in the Elite Eight for the second time in three seasons.

Baylor (3) vs. Kentucky (1), 2:20 p.m. ET, CBS

Things to know: Baylor has the tools, talent and length to make this game interesting.

When the NCAA tournament field was announced, this potential matchup was as intriguing as any in the South Region because Baylor possesses the type of athletes and size to challenge the Wildcats.

Five players with 7-foot wingspans (or greater). A 1-3-1 zone that’s as unique -- with its athletes, talent and size -- as Syracuse’s.

Quincy Acy is more than a beard. The 6-foot-7 senior had 20 points and 15 rebounds in Friday’s win over Xavier in the Sweet 16.

Brady Heslip is 15-for-25 (60 percent) from beyond the arc in the NCAA tournament. And even though he’s been inconsistent in the Big Dance, Perry Jones III (14 points, five rebounds against the Musketeers) is built for this matchup.

The Bears were overlooked and criticized as Missouri and Kansas fought for the Big 12 title, but they're solid on offense (10th in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted offensive efficiency ratings) and defense (39th in defensive efficiency).

But. But. But, they’re playing Kentucky.

Indiana scored 90 points against the Wildcats on Friday. The Hoosiers hit 52 percent of their shot attempts and only committed eight turnovers. Christian Watford (27 points) and Cody Zeller (20 points) led five double-figure scorers. And Kentucky's Anthony Davis played just 25 minutes after early foul trouble.

And still, the Hoosiers couldn’t pull off the upset.

Kentucky scored 102 points and only turned the ball over six times. The Wildcats always seem to have another gear, another level that their opponents can’t match.

Indiana would have advanced past every other remaining team with its effort Friday. But the Wildcats are different.

Baylor, however, could offer Kentucky its greatest matchup challenges since its nonconference game against North Carolina. The Wildcats, however, won that game, too.

Look for Baylor to go at Davis hard in the first half. They have the bodies and they’ll use them and try to lure Davis into early foul trouble. On defense, the Bears will try to use their length to force difficult shots in the lane. Look for Kentucky to challenge Baylor on both ends of the floor and exploit the Bears’ tendency to play timid early in physical games.

The journey: Baylor defeated South Dakota State, Colorado and Xavier to reach the Elite Eight. Kentucky beat Western Kentucky, Iowa State and Indiana to earn the opportunity to compete in the Final Four.

Monitor his progress: Perry Jones’ length, athleticism and talent make NBA scouts salivate. But the bulk of his career has been defined by potential, not production. This has to be the game in which Jones proves himself. He had just nine points combined in his team’s first two NCAA tournament games. The Bears will need him, however, against Kentucky. If he’s really a lottery pick, if he’s really worthy of that multimillion-dollar contract, then one would think that Jones has to showcase his abilities in this matchup.

Numbers to impress your friends: The Bears have reached the Elite Eight twice. But they didn’t beat a single-digit seed either time. In the 2010 NCAA tournament, the Bears beat Sam Houston State (14-seed), Old Dominion (11-seed) and Saint Mary’s (10-seed). This year, they beat South Dakota State (14-seed), Colorado (11-seed) and Xavier (10-seed). Davis has blocked five or more shots in 17 games this season.

Game’s most critical question: Will Baylor point guard Pierre Jackson’s shot selection disrupt Bears' offense?

The matchup: Acy versus Davis. Zeller drew quick fouls against Davis. Acy will attack Davis early, too.

Don’t touch that remote because ... Kentucky is playing. Seriously. The Wildcats have had a special season thus far. With that talent and swagger, they’re always entertaining. But a Baylor upset isn’t a ridiculous notion.

Kansas (2) vs. North Carolina (1), 5:05 p.m. ET, CBS

Things to know: Nine years ago, Roy Williams left Kansas for North Carolina.

And his stand against his former team in the Elite Eight is actually a secondary storyline in this matchup.

Ohio took North Carolina to overtime Friday in a fascinating Sweet 16 matchup. The Tar Heels didn’t look like the same team without starting point guard Kendall Marshall.

The sophomore suffered a wrist injury that kept him out of that game. And now, we’re all wondering if we’ll see a Willis Reed-like appearance on Sunday.

Marshall told reporters that he wouldn’t have played if the game had been held Saturday. But he did go through practice. Will he play?

Well, Marshall also told reporters that “I could be out there playing” when asked if the Kansas matchup is a possibility.

Instead of chatter about Williams facing Kansas, the main intrigue surrounds Marshall. He’s such a crucial player for the Tar Heels and that was evident as the Tar Heels struggled with Ohio.

The Jayhawks haven’t been flawless, either. They beat both Purdue in the round of 32 and NC State in the Sweet 16 by three points.

But they’re here. And they definitely have the talent to beat the Tar Heels, especially if Marshall can’t go.

Jeff Withey (10 blocks against the Wolfpack) and Thomas Robinson (18 points and 15 rebounds against NC State) have comprised one of the nation’s top frontcourts. Plus, the Jayhawks are fourth on Pomeroy’s defensive efficiency ratings.

But the Tar Heels are still a potent force even without Marshall. Tyler Zeller recorded 20 points and 22 rebounds against Ohio. Zeller, John Henson and Harrison Barnes could carry the Tar Heels to New Orleans. Reggie Bullock played a star role against Ohio with 17 points.

Stilman White, Marshall’s replacement, only scored two points but he played above-average defense.

With or without Marshall, this should be a great game. If he plays, it might be a classic.

Look for Tyshawn Taylor to challenge White early on both ends of the floor. Look for the Tar Heels to minimize White’s role and get the ball to Zeller and Henson early in the shot clock so they can attack and try to draw first-half fouls against Withey and Robinson. This is all assuming Marshall remains sidelined.

The journey: Kansas beat Detroit, Purdue and NC State to reach the Elite Eight. North Carolina defeated Vermont, Creighton and Ohio.

Monitor his progress: White doesn’t have to replace Marshall’s offensive production. He can’t. But his defense will be crucial again, especially with the explosive Taylor running the show for the Jayhawks.

Numbers to impress your friends: Taylor has committed 10 turnovers in the NCAA tournament (three games). Prior to playing 32 minutes against Ohio, White registered double-digit minutes just once during the regular season (11 minutes against Nicholls State Dec. 19).

Game’s most critical question: If Marshall plays, will he be healthy enough to make an impact?

The matchup: Withey versus Zeller. The tournament’s top interior defender (not named Davis) against one of the nation’s top big men.

Don’t touch that remote because ... Zeller has been a beast. Marshall might play. Withey nearly broke an NCAA tournament record for blocked shots against NC State. Robinson is a star. Need any more reasons?

Video: King and Pickeral on UNC-Kansas

March, 24, 2012
PM ET writers Jason King and Robbi Pickeral break down the keys to Sunday's North Carolina-Kansas Midwest Region final.

Midwest preview: UNC vs. Kansas

March, 24, 2012

ST. LOUIS -- One day before they were to meet North Carolina in the Elite Eight, members of the Kansas basketball team got into a heated argument while eating breakfast Saturday at the Hyatt Regency hotel.

In this case, it was a good thing.

The bickering started when point guard Tyshawn Taylor mentioned the words “Final Four.” Before Taylor could finish his thought, teammate Thomas Robinson cut him off in mid-sentence and reminded him not to look too far ahead.

“I just want to get there,” Robinson said. “I just want to take it one step at a time.”

Wise move.

As well as their season has gone, the Jayhawks (30-6) hardly looked like a Final Four-caliber team while squeaking past double-digit seeds Purdue and NC State in the past two rounds of the NCAA tournament.

Satisfying as getting to the Elite Eight may be, Kansas knows its performance will have to dramatically improve if it has any hopes of defeating North Carolina on Sunday in St. Louis. The Tar Heels and Jayhawks are seeded No. 1 and 2, respectively, in the Midwest Region.

“We know we haven’t been playing great lately,” Robinson said. “A lot of people see that as a bad thing, but I see it as a good thing. We’ve been finding a way to win and we still haven’t played close to our abilities.

“The lid will come off [the rim] tomorrow and we’ll play a great game.”

While there certainly aren’t lids hovering over the Edward Jones Dome baskets, something seems to be affecting the Jayhawks' shooting. Kansas went just 37.5 percent from the field in Friday’s 60-57 win over NC State and made just two of its 22 shots from outside the paint.

[+] EnlargeKansas' Thomas Robinson
Rich Sugg/Getty ImagesThomas Robinson had his best game of the tournament against NC State, scoring 18 points and grabbing 15 rebounds.
Bill Self’s squad connected on just 33.9 percent of its attempts in last week’s 63-60 victory against Purdue. Taylor, who has missed 15 of his past 16 shots from 3-point range, was asked if he thought the Jayhawks would be a different team on offense Sunday.

“Honestly, I don’t know how confident I am that it will change,” Taylor said. “But what I am confident in is [our defense]. We’ve been getting stops when we need to. If we continue to do that, whether the ball goes in or not, we can win.”

Forcing midtier teams such as Purdue and NC State into bad shooting nights is one thing, but limiting elite teams such as North Carolina is a whole different beast. The Tar Heels tout as many as seven future first-round draft picks with players such as Harrison Barnes, Tyler Zeller and John Henson.

North Carolina’s most irreplaceable part, however, is point guard Kendall Marshall, who is questionable for Sunday’s game with a wrist injury. Marshall didn’t play against No. 13 seed Ohio University on Friday, and the Tar Heels needed overtime to defeat the Bobcats.

Marshall, who had surgery Monday morning, went through a light workout for the first time this week on Saturday. UNC coach Roy Williams said he likely won’t know until just before the game if Marshall can play.

“I’ve got mad respect for his game,” Taylor said. “He’s a great guard. He’s been killing it this year. As a competitor, I want him to play. I want that challenge. If he plays, I think the game would be that much better.”

Marshall ranks second in the nation in assists with 9.7 per game. If he isn’t able to go, North Carolina will likely start seldom-used freshman Stilman White for the second straight game. White averaged just 4 minutes a contest before he was thrust into duty Friday. He played 32 minutes against Ohio and finished with six assists and zero turnovers.

This will be the first time Kansas and North Carolina have played since the 2008 Final Four, when KU jumped out to a 40-12 lead and eventually won 84-66. Two nights later, the Jayhawks defeated Memphis in overtime to claim their first NCAA title since 1988.

“This is going to be one of the funnest games of our careers,” KU center Jeff Withey said. “We’re excited to play against them. We wouldn’t want it any other way than to play North Carolina to get to the Final Four.

“We match up really well with them. It’s going to be a fun game, a physical game, one for the history books.”

Who to watch:

Jeff Withey, Kansas -- The 7-foot center had 10 blocks in Friday’s Sweet 16 victory over NC State. His defense against players such as Tyler Zeller and John Henson will be vital for a KU squad that doesn’t back down in the paint.

Elijah Johnson, Kansas -- The junior guard has been one of KU’s steadiest players the past three weeks. He was the only Jayhawk to make a basket outside of the paint Friday, and his layup off an inbounds pass with less than a minute remaining helped seal KU’s win.

Harrison Barnes, North Carolina -- The Tar Heels’ leading scorer was brutal in North Carolina’s victory over Ohio on Friday. Barnes scored 12 points but made just three of his 16 shots.

Stilman White, North Carolina -- The freshman opened the season as the Tar Heels’ third-string point guard. But injuries to Dexter Strickland and Kendall Marshall forced him to play 32 minutes against Ohio. He had two points and zero turnovers.
ST. LOUIS -- North Carolina point guard Kendall Marshall participated in some non-contact shooting, passing and dribbling drills during practice Saturday.

But the sophomore Cousy Award finalist said he would not have played if the Tar Heels' regional final was that day.

As for Sunday, when the top-seeded Tar Heels face No. 2 seed Kansas?

"I don't know," Marshall said in the locker room at the Edward Jones Dome, his right wrist and elbow wrapped in ice. "We'll see tomorrow. We'll see how I feel after shootaround. ...

"As of right now, it's like yesterday: I'm not playing. But if I do continue to feel better, there's no telling -- I could be out there playing."

The health of Marshall -- a left-handed ball handler who fractured his right wrist this past Sunday, had surgery to insert a screw in it Monday and had his hard cast replaced with a stabilizing brace Wednesday -- has been under constant scrutiny since the injury. UNC managed to beat No. 13 seed Ohio without him, in overtime on Friday, but the offense looked out of sync and the Tar Heels committed a season-high 24 turnovers.

Click here for the rest of the story....

UNC notes: Big night for Zeller

March, 24, 2012
ST. LOUIS -- Earlier this season, when North Carolina forward Tyler Zeller was racking up double-double after the double-double, he said he didn’t know what it would take to record a 20-rebound game.

After Friday, he does.

“Overtime,’’ he said, grinning after UNC’s 73-65 OT win over Ohio.

The 7-foot senior finished with 20 points and 22 rebounds, becoming only the fourth player in the past 30 seasons to record 20 points and 20 rebounds in a Men's Basketball Championship game and the first since Tim Duncan in 1997, according to ESPN Stats & Information. He joins quite a trio:

  • [+] EnlargeUNC's Tyler Zeller
    Shane Keyser/Getty ImagesTyler Zeller became the first player since Tim Duncan in 1997 to score at least 20 points and grab at least 20 rebounds in an NCAA tournament game.
    In 1997, Wake Forest’s Duncan finished with 22 points and 22 rebounds against St. Mary’s.
  • In 1995, Maryland's Joe Smith had 31 points and 21 rebounds against Texas.
  • In 1983, Houston’s Hakeem Olajuwon recorded 21 points and 22 rebounds against Louisville.

Zeller credited his size (Ohio's tallest starter was 6-8) for the performance. But injured point guard Kendall Marshall said there's more to it.

"The steps that he's made each year have been great. He's a senior, he knows that this is his team,'' Marshall said. "He wants to lead us ... the effort he puts in every day is a testament to the kind of player he is, and I'm extremely happy for him. We wouldn't be where we are without him."

WHITE’S DEBUT: Freshman Stilman White admits he probably wasn’t as nervous as he should have been, making his first collegiate start -- in the NCAA Sweet Sixteen.

But that worked in his favor. Saying “my main goal was not to turn the ball over very much,’’ he achieved that, finishing with a career high six assists, plus zero turnovers, in 32 minutes. He also buried the last two free throws of the game.

“He was really something,’’ coach Roy Williams said.

Of the eight Tar Heels who played, White was the only one who did not commit a turnover.

“I’ve got a great team; I’ve just got to get the ball to some great players,’’ he said.

ROUGH NIGHT FOR BARNES: It was a frustrating night for sophomore Harrison Barnes, who shot 3-for-16, including a missed game-winner at the end of regulation.

"The youngster has an ability to make plays and he's not afraid to try to make plays,'' UNC coach Roy Williams said. "Some kids will always say, 'Yeah, I want to have that shot,' but he's the kind of kid that does really want it, and he focuses on the play, not the result.

"So we all have a tremendous amount of confidence. It didn't work out there at the end of regulation, but give the defensive player credit, too."

Barnes went on to score five of the Tar Heels' 10 points in overtime -- a jumper and two free throws. He finished with 12 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists and 5 turnovers for the game.

Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.

ST. LOUIS - Quick thoughts from Kansas' 60-57 victory over North Carolina State in the Sweet 16.

Overview: The Kansas team that everyone tagged as Bill Self's worst is turning out to be one of his best. Or at least one of his toughest.

For the second consecutive game, the Jayhawks found a way to grind out a win against double-digit seed despite struggling mightily on the offensive end. Kansas shot just 37.5 percent from the field against NC State, the No. 11 seed in the Midwest Region. The Wolfpack, though, made just 28.6 percent of its shots against Kansas, which advances to play No. 1 seed North Carolina on Sunday at 5:05 p.m. ET at the Edward Jones Dome.

North Carolina needed overtime to defeat No. 13 seed Ohio 73-65 in Friday's other Sweet 16 matchup in St. Louis. The Tar Heels are coached by Roy Williams, who spent 15 years as Kansas' head coach before leaving after the 2002-03 season for Chapel Hill.

Even though North Carolina could be without injured point guard Kendall Marshall, the Jayhawks will need to play much better than they did against NC State if they hope to defeat the Tar Heels. Kansas - which shot just 33.9 percent in last week's 63-60 victory over Purdue - got off to a horrendous start and trailed 13-3 early in the first half.

The Jayhawks were down 33-32 at intermission. All but two of their opening-half points came in the paint. Kansas, though, opened the second half on a 12-2 scoring run that led to a 44-35 cushion. From there, Self's squad managed to stave off the Wolfpack until the game's closing minutes, when NC State made it interesting.

With Kansas leading 58-52, Jayhawks guard Elijah Johnson fouled Scott Wood as the Wolfpack guard was attempting a 3-pointer. Wood made all three free throws to pull his team within 3, 58-55. Tyshawn Taylor turned it over on Kansas' next possession, and NC State capitalized with a fast-break layup with that made it 58-57.

Wood then missed a 3-pointer for NC State. The Wolfpack got the rebound, but C.J. Leslie's put-back attempt was blocked by Jeff Withey. Taylor came away with the ball and was fouled, but he missed the front end of the one-and-one. NC State, though, knocked the ball out of bounds on the battle for the rebound with 13.5 seconds left. Kansas took advantage when Taylor found a cutting Johnson for an easy layup on the inbounds pass that provided the final score.

Turning point: Kansas didn't feel good about the win until Wood stepped out of bounds with 4.3 seconds remaining, just before he attempted a 3-pointer that would've forced a 63-63 tie and, most likely, overtime.

Key player: Withey had 8 points and 10 blocks for No. 2-seeded Kansas. Thomas Robinson had a game-high 18 points and 15 rebounds. Leslie led NC State with 18 points.

Up next: The Jayhawks have played UNC just once - in the 2008 Final Four - since Williams' departure. Kansas stormed out to a 40-12 lead in that game and eventually prevailed 84-66. Two nights later, Kansas won the NCAA title with an overtime victory against Memphis.

Video: North Carolina's Stilman White

March, 24, 2012

North Carolina freshman Stilman White, who made his first career start against Ohio, talks about his team's 73-65 overtime victory over Ohio.

ST. LOUIS -- Quick thoughts from North Carolina's 73-65 overtime victory over Ohio in the Sweet 16 on Friday.

Overview: On a night when it didn't have star point guard Kendall Marshall, No. 1 seed North Carolina couldn't have been more thankful for Reggie Bullock after its overtime win against No. 13 seed Ohio. A sophomore, Bullock helped bail out a sloppy Tar Heels team that clearly wasn't at its best with its floor leader out and leading scorer Harrison Barnes struggling to find his groove.

Bullock's clutch 3-pointer with 39 seconds remaining turned a 61-60 deficit into a 63-61 lead. Ohio forced a tie on its next possession when Walter Offutt was fouled while making a layup. Offut squandered the opportunity for a 3-point play when he missed the ensuing free throw. Offut blocked Barnes' game-winning shot attempt on the other end to force overtime.

Bullock came up huge again moments later when he opened the extra period with a 3-pointer to put his team ahead 66-63. The shot set the tone for the game's final five minutes, when North Carolina cruised to a victory by outscoring the scrappy Bobcats, 10-2.

Bullock finished with 17 points and made five of his 10 attempts from beyond the arc. The victory had to be special for the Kinston, N.C., native, who missed last season's NCAA tournament with a knee injury.

Fearless as Bullock was Friday, the best player on the floor was North Carolina's Tyler Zeller, who 20 points and a career-high 23 rebounds. Eight of Zeller's boards came on the offensive end, which helped North Carolina outscore Ohio 14-4 on second-chance points.

Barnes, who averages a team-high 17.4 points, was just 3-of-16 from the field Friday and finished with 12 points. Offut had a game-high 26 points for Ohio on 10-of-18 shooting.

Gutsy as the victory may have been, North Carolina's chances of advancing to the Final Four appear to be in jeopardy without Marshall, who is generally regarded as one of the top two or three point guards in all of college basketball. Marshall, who injured his wrist in last Sunday's victory over Creighton, averages 9.7 assists and is the key reason the Tar Heels have been able to play at a fast, frenetic pace all season.

With combo guard Dexter Strickland out with a knee injury, North Carolina's only option Friday was to turn to freshman Stilman White, who entered the game averaging 4.3 minutes and 0.7 points on the season. Considering the circumstances, White did a more than admirable job Friday. His only points came on a pair of free throws, but he had 6 assists in 32 minutes and didn't commit a single turnover.

Still, the Tar Heels will have a tough time beating either Kansas or North Carolina State on Sunday without Marshall, whose status is uncertain.

Turning point: Bullock's 3-pointer at the beginning of overtime set the tone for the extra period and appeared to deflate Ohio. Bobcats guard D.J. Cooper missed a 3-pointer on the other end on Ohio's next possession, and UNC responded with a 17-footer by Barnes. At that point, the Tar Heels had a 68-63 lead and momentum they would never relinquish.

Key player: Bullock's 3-pointers were huge and Zeller, as he's been all season, was steady from start to finish. But in this situation it's hard not to praise White for his performance on such a big stage. As coach Roy Williams likes to say, White helped the Tar Heels by not hurting them.

Key stat: North Carolina has now won 11 consecutive Sweet 16 games.

Miscellaneous: North Carolina opened the game on a 26-11 run before allowing an 11-3 march by Ohio to end the half. It was 29-22 at intermission. ... Ohio shot just 23 percent in the first half. ... Barnes missed 11 of his first 12 shots.

Up next: The Tar Heels will take on No. 2 seed Kansas. The teams haven't met since the 2008 Final Four. Kansas won that game and went on to win the NCAA title with an overtime victory over Memphis two nights later.
ST. LOUIS -- North Carolina point guard Kendall Marshall will not play in Friday's NCAA Midwest Regional semifinal against Ohio, a team spokesman said.

Freshman Stilman White, who has averaged 4.3 minutes per game this season, will start in his place.

Click here for the rest of the story....
The first day of the Sweet 16 featured plenty of drama.

Wisconsin lost to No. 1 seed Syracuse after botching its final possession. Michigan State forgot how to score. Ohio State won the battle between two in-state schools. Florida continued its surge with a win over Marquette.

What will Day 2 bring?

Xavier (10) vs. Baylor (3), 7:15 p.m. ET, CBS

Things to know: Both teams have endured their fair share of criticism this year.

[+] EnlargeKenny Frease
Bob Donnan/US PresswireXavier center Kenny Frease will be key to slowing down Baylor's bigs.
A December brawl with intra-city rival Cincinnati nearly ruined Xavier’s season. There were suspensions and public remarks about the incident from people around the country.

The fight seemed to take the wind out of a Xavier team that entered the year on numerous “Final Four dark horse” lists. Then, the scuffle happened and Xavier lost five of its next six.

But the Musketeers have begun the process of restoring their image. Tu Holloway has scored a combined 46 points in Xavier’s NCAA tourney victories over Lehigh and Notre Dame. This edgy, tough bunch will certainly put up a fight against a talented Baylor team, especially if Dezmine Wells can go.

Baylor has all of the tools to reach the Final Four in New Orleans. Some are even picking the Bears to upset Kentucky because they have the length and athleticism to match the Wildcats.

But the Bears have fallen short of their potential for most of the season. Perry Jones III, a possible lottery pick, has been inconsistent (nine points combined in two tourney victories). Scott Drew’s coaching decisions have been questioned.

Still, the Bears have a chance to reach their second Elite Eight in three years if they get past the Musketeers.

Look for Xavier to pressure the perimeter and try to neutralize Brady Heslip (9-for-12 from beyond the arc in Baylor's third-round win over Colorado). Kenny Frease will throw his weight around for buckets in the paint. Look for the Bears to continuously work their inside-outside game.

The journey: Xavier beat Notre Dame and Lehigh to reach the Sweet 16. Baylor defeated South Dakota State and Colorado.

Monitor his progress: Frease has scored in the single digits in four of his team’s last seven losses. The big man’s bulk will be vital for the Musketeers inside the paint.

Numbers to impress your friends: Heslip doesn’t have to dribble to score. He’s recorded his 14 field goals in the Big Dance via catch-and-shoot plays, according to ESPN Stats & Info.

Game’s most critical question: Will Frease make an impact against Baylor’s length and athleticism?

The matchup: Frease against Quincy Acy. Two talented big men who don’t mind contact. Could get scrappy.

Don’t touch that remote because ... Baylor has one of the most impressive assemblies in the field on paper. But Xavier has a tough crew, too. Might be game of the night.

North Carolina (1) vs. Ohio (13), 7:47 p.m ET, TBS

Things to know: Ohio wasn’t expected to reach this point. But junior D.J. Cooper has been a gem for the Bobcats. He has recorded 40 points and 12 assists in NCAA tourney wins over Michigan and South Florida.

Cooper might be the most important player in the remaining field. He’s scored or assisted on 56 percent of the team’s 71 points, per ESPN Stats & Info.

Looking for this year’s Steph Curry? Cooper has earned that tag.

Ohio is facing a North Carolina team that will likely compete without its starting point guard. Kendall Marshall had surgery on a broken wrist earlier this week. He suffered the injury in the team’s third-round win over Creighton. Coach Roy Williams said he has a “strong inclination” that Marshall will not play against Ohio.

The Tar Heels are still the superior group without him. John Henson, Tyler Zeller and Harrison Barnes can lead the program to a Saturday matchup against the winner of NC State-Kansas.

The Tar Heels are ninth in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted tempo ratings. They’ll certainly push the pace against the Bobcats.

Look for the Bobcats, however, to pressure new point guard Stilman White, Marshall’s replacement if he can’t go. The freshman has averaged just 4.3 minutes per game. Look for North Carolina to use its length and talent to overwhelm the Bobcats.

The journey: North Carolina defeated Vermont and Creighton to reach the Sweet 16. Ohio had to outplay Michigan and South Florida to reach the Sweet 16.

Monitor his progress: White might be the starting point guard for a North Carolina team that’s capable of reaching New Orleans, but he’s never played under these lights. Hard to know what to expect from the youngster. But he just became one of the most important players on the floor.

Numbers to impress your friends: Life without Marshall might not end well. The sophomore point guard has assisted on 41 percent of North Carolina’s points since the start of ACC play, per ESPN Stats & Info. North Carolina’s 38.4 points per game in the paint are the top mark among major-conference schools.

Game’s most critical question: How quickly will White adjust to his new role as starting point guard?

The matchup: Cooper versus White. Cooper is a veteran guard who’s put Ohio on the national radar with two great performances in his first two NCAA tournament games. White will have his hands full.

Don’t touch that remote because ... Ohio continues to surpass expectations. And North Carolina could crumble without Marshall.

Indiana (4) vs. Kentucky (1), 9:45 p.m. ET, CBS

Things to know: Get your popcorn ready for this one.

On Dec. 10, Indiana beat Kentucky at Assembly Hall and changed the trajectory of its season. Christian Watford’s 3-pointer at the buzzer. Court-storming. Players standing atop the scorers’ table. Legendary.

[+] EnlargeChristian Watford
Brian Spurlock/US PresswireChristian Watford hit a clutch 3-pointer at the buzzer to beat the Wildcats during the regular season.
And here we go again.

A rematch, but both teams have matured since that game. Following that loss to Indiana, Kentucky didn’t lose again until the SEC tournament title game.

From Dec. 28 through Feb. 1, the Hoosiers went 5-6. But they’ve amassed a 10-2 record since that rocky sequence.

Cody Zeller’s transformation from impressive freshman to potential lottery pick helped the Hoosiers reach the Sweet 16. Zeller, ranked seventh in John Hollinger’s PER ratings (31.16), recorded 14 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists and 6 steals in his team’s second-round win over New Mexico State. He followed that up with 16 points and 13 rebounds against VCU.

With the assistance of Zeller’s development and a 43.7 percent clip from the 3-point line (No. 2 in the country), the Hoosiers possess the No. 4 offense in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted offensive efficiency ratings.

But against Kentucky, it’s always a game of “anything you can do I can do better.” The Wildcats have the No. 2 offense in Pomeroy’s efficiency ratings. They’re ninth in defensive efficiency.

They have Anthony Davis (14.3 ppg, 10.1 rpg and 4.6 bpg), too.

After that Indiana loss, the Wildcats stopped all arguments about the best team in America. They separated themselves from the field and entered the NCAA tournament as the favorites to win it all.

That hasn’t changed.

In this matchup, look for the Hoosiers to attack Davis again -- he picked up early fouls in the first game -- and hoist 3s early to stretch Kentucky’s defense. Look for the Wildcats to burst up the floor off misses and turn this into an up-and-down affair.

The journey: Indiana beat New Mexico State then dismissed VCU with clutch plays down the stretch. Kentucky beat Western Kentucky then overcame Royce White’s 23-point, nine-rebound effort to beat Iowa State.

Monitor his progress: The Wildcats are a different squad without Davis on the floor. The Wildcats were outscored by 12 points during the 16 minutes the team had to go without Davis because of foul trouble in the first Indiana-Kentucky game in Bloomington.

Numbers to impress your friends: Davis is one of the toughest defenders in recent history. Teams are perplexed as they try to find ways to score with Davis inside. But he’s not just a post defender. Davis has blocked 14 3-point attempts this season, according to ESPN Stats & Info.

Game’s most critical question: If Davis picks up early fouls, can Kentucky still win?

The matchup: Davis versus Zeller. Must-see TV.

Don’t touch that remote because ... This is Indiana-Kentucky: The Rematch. It’s that simple.

North Carolina State (11) vs. Kansas (2), 10:17 p.m. ET, TBS

Things to know: NC State lost four in a row in February. The Wolfpack were the last to hear their name called on Selection Sunday.

But the Wolfpack revived their entire season with a surprising outing in Columbus last week. The 11-seed upset San Diego State in the second round. The Aztecs didn’t have answers for NC State’s size and athleticism. Then, the Wolfpack recovered from a 10-point deficit in the first half to beat Georgetown, a No. 3 seed.

It’s all coming together at the perfect time for Mark Gottfried’s team. C.J. Leslie, a player whose effort has been questioned in the past, is leading the charge.

But they’re going into an environment that will resemble a home game for the Jayhawks. The Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis will be packed with Kansas fans. And that’s just the start of NC State’s worries.

The Wolfpack have to deal with National Player of the Year candidate Thomas Robinson (16 points and 13 rebounds in a second-round win over Detroit; 11 points and 13 rebounds in a third-round win over Purdue) and one of the best defensive teams in the country (No. 5 in Pomeroy’s defensive efficiency ratings).

The Jayhawks were on the verge of suffering an upset late in the third round, but a Purdue turnover gave the squad the opportunity it needed to secure the win in the final minutes. Part of Kansas’ challenges thus far are tied to its subpar shooting. Its 26.3 field goal percentage outside the paint in its first two games was the worst mark entering the Sweet 16, per ESPN Stats & Info.

Look for NC State to push the pace and find Scott Wood (41.7 percent from beyond the arc this season) and Lorenzo Brown (3-for-5 from the 3-point line in the NCAA tourney) on the perimeter. Look for Kansas to feed Robinson and Jeff Withey and challenge NC State’s frontcourt.

The journey: Kansas beat Detroit in its first game and escaped Purdue in its third-round win. The Wolfpack defeated San Diego State and Georgetown to reach the Sweet 16.

Monitor his progress: Tyshawn Taylor (17.3 ppg) is one of the most explosive guards in the tourney. But he’s committed 16 turnovers in the team’s last five games. Similar mistakes in Friday’s game could give the Wolfpack the opening to pull off the upset.

Numbers to impress your friends: NC State has scored 58 points in the paint (38 against San Diego State and 20 against Georgetown).

Game’s most critical question: Will 7-footer Withey (11 points) show up?

The matchup: Leslie versus Robinson. This matchup between a pair of talented forwards will have a critical impact on the outcome of the game.

Don’t touch that remote because ... Kansas hasn’t looked great thus far. NC State has surpassed expectations. A third upset for the Wolfpack is possible.

Video: Sweet 16 Friday predictions

March, 23, 2012

Hubert Davis and Dick Vitale pick their winners for Friday's Sweet 16 games.