North Carolina Tar Heels: Big East

2013-14 hoops season in review

April, 10, 2014
4/10/14
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Connecticut’s national title as a No. 7 seed provided the conclusive evidence of what we knew early on in the 2013-14 men’s college basketball season. There was no dominant team. Arizona settled down the revolving door of No. 1 teams -- the Wildcats were the third to hold the mantle just six weeks into the polls, and their eight weeks atop the Associated Press poll was the longest of the five teams (Kentucky, Michigan State, Syracuse, Florida) to be ranked No. 1. With the odds of winning the Billion Dollar Bracket already outrageous, parity in college basketball made it downright impossible.

With the book finally written on the season, here are the chapters we’ll remember most:

Freedom of movement: Officials were quick to say this season they weren’t creating new rules, they were enforcing the old ones. College basketball had become too defensive, the critics said. Physical play was ruining the game. The season started with an emphasis on allowing freedom of movement and handchecking was called to the point of being a “touch foul.” Players, coaches and officials alike never came to a consensus of understanding how a block/charge would be called. While scoring on the whole increased slightly, there was no denying that foul calls and free throws had a substantial spike.

Champions Classic: Teams were allowed to begin practice two weeks before the traditional Oct. 15 start date, which in a practical sense meant earlier than ever. It resulted in a November filled with high-quality games beginning with a special night in Chicago. The Champions Classic doubleheader featured Michigan State’s win over Kentucky and Kansas beating Duke and ushered in the season with big-name matchups with budding superstars to get college hoops buzzing even in the midst of the BCS race and the NFL, the overlord of American sports, in the middle of its season.

[+] EnlargeDoug McDermott
AP Photo/Nati HarnikScoring machine Doug McDermott was one of the many seniors to make an impact on this season.
Freshmen focus: The Champions Classic just solidified what was already being said about the 2013 recruiting class. These were not ordinary freshmen. Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins was projected as the potential No. 1 pick in the 2014 NBA draft long before ever stepping foot on campus. Those expectations might have skewed his performance this season because it was always in the context of being a top pick instead of simply being a freshman. Duke’s Jabari Parker, Kentucky’s Julius Randle and Arizona’s Aaron Gordon were all expected to be exceptional before the season started. But others like Syracuse guard Tyler Ennis and Kansas center Joel Embiid elbowed their way into the elite conversation with their play.

Senior spotlight: Plenty of seniors weren’t going to let the young guys hog all the spotlight and reminded us of the value of staying four years. No way UConn’s Shabazz Napier was mature enough in his previous three seasons to lead a team to the national title the way he did this season. Creighton’s Doug McDermott returned to school -- as a walk-on no less -- and finished as the fifth leading scorer in Division I history. He was also the first player since Wayman Tisdale (1983-85) and just the sixth ever to have three consecutive seasons scoring 800 points or more. Louisville’s Russ Smith returned and ranked No. 1 in offensive efficiency by kenpom.com for a second straight season.

Conference realignment: With the dust finally settled (we think), and teams shuffled into new leagues, we saw the good and the bad from the new configurations. A record crowd of 35,000-plus at the Carrier Dome watched Syracuse’s 91-89 overtime win against Duke become an instant classic in their first meeting as ACC foes. The future of ACC basketball, which adds Louisville next season, is partly why Maryland’s season-long swan song as a former ACC charter member was overshadowed. Creighton excelled in its new locale, finishing second in the new Big East, even though its move from the Missouri Valley hurt Wichita State. (More on that below.) The brand-spanking new American Athletic Conference truly reflected the nation with its huge disparity between the haves at the top of the league and the have-nots at the bottom. In the end, the national championship trophy resides in the rookie league.

Shockers chase perfection: Wichita State became the first team since St. Joseph’s in 2004 to finish the regular season undefeated. Instead of drawing praise, it drew some skepticism from those who pointed to a weakened Missouri Valley schedule. Still the Shockers plugged along reaching 35-0 -- one game better than the 1990-91 UNLV squad that went 34-1 and lost to Duke in the Final Four -- and grabbing a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. Their season ended against eventual national runners-up and 8-seed Kentucky in the round of 32.

Coaches behaving badly: The season provided Internet trolls a seemingly endless supply of memes and GIFs to loop. The list was long, including Iowa’s Fran McCaffery slamming chairs against Michigan State, Nebraska’s Tim Miles ending the Cornhuskers’ most memorable season in decades with an NCAA tournament ejection and Southern Illinois coach Barry Hinson’s postgame rant that included that his wife, not his players, knows to, “at least shot-fake one time.” But a few stand out. Who can forget the sight of Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim nearly losing his jacket while running on the Cameron Indoor Stadium floor to protest a charge with 10 seconds left in a loss at Duke? Boeheim joked after the game that his first trip to Tobacco Road, which resulted in his first regular-season ejection, would be a memorable one. Then there was Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski (insert sarcasm font here) who will certainly think twice before throwing a pen toward his bench. Krzyzewski got a technical foul for doing so in the ACC tournament final against Virginia.

[+] EnlargeJim Boeheim
Chuck Liddy/Raleigh News & Observer/Getty ImagesJim Boeheim's jacket-removing, court-sprinting rant against Duke earned his first regular-season ejection.
Marcus Smart’s split-second snap: Oklahoma State guard Marcus Smart earned praise in the preseason for putting off the NBA for a year and returning to school to work on his game. He couldn’t envision how frustrating the year would be. A season that began crumbling came to a boiling point at Texas Tech. With the Cowboys nearing a fourth straight loss, Smart shoved a fan when his momentum from a play carried him to the footstep of the stands. Smart said the fan called him a racial slur. The fan, Jeff Orr, said he called him a “piece of crap.” Regardless, Smart received a three-game suspension.

Safety issues: There were the things out of man’s control like the postponement of Iowa’s game at Indiana due to a pane of the ceiling crashing into the stands. North Carolina and Duke postponed their first meeting when a snow storm left the Blue Devils’ bus unable to safely travel eight miles to Chapel Hill. It was the Tar Heels’ first postponed game since the Gulf War. Court storming continued to be a topic when a fight broke out at the end of Utah Valley’s win over New Mexico State. The incident started when an agitated K.C. Ross-Miller of NMSU hurled the ball at Holton Hunsaker as time expired. Two Aggies were suspended for their roles in the altercation. Thankfully no one was hurt when an alcohol-fused adrenaline rush sent a UC-Santa Barbara student running onto the court during the first half of a game against Hawaii; the fan got close enough to confront Hawaii coach Gib Arnold before players pushed him away and he was escorted out.

Those were the top highlights from the season. Just missing the cut were: how teams turned around their seasons (including Virginia, Wisconsin, Michigan, Kentucky and Tennessee); the impact of transfers (from the spectacular, including Duke’s Rodney Hood; to the cautionary, including Georgetown’s Josh Smith); the Carolina blues (potential All-American P.J. Hairston sat out the first nine games before the school announced it would not seek his reinstatement); and basketball as an emotional outlet (cellar dweller Boston College handed Syracuse its first loss after the passing of longtime BC media relations director Dick Kelley, and Georgia coach Mike Fox winning at Missouri after attending his father’s memorial service).

Weekend Picks: Iowa over Ohio State?

January, 10, 2014
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C’mon, Memphis.

I never thought Cincy would stomp the Tigers the way it did last weekend. That was my lone blemish.

I figured out the rest, though.

I have a feeling, however, that I’ll be less accurate this weekend. Too many difficult matchups to predict.

So I’d advise you to take all of this with a grain of salt. (What on earth does that mean anyway?)

Last week: 4-1
Overall: 17-8

Saturday

[+] EnlargeRoy Williams
Peter G. Aiken/USA TODAY SportsRoy Williams takes his wildly inconsistent squad into the Carrier Dome to play No. 2 Syracuse.
North Carolina at No. 2 Syracuse, noon ET, ESPN: Oh, Tar Heels, college basketball’s chameleon. At least they make it fun, right? I mean, every time North Carolina takes the floor, we’re all curious about the version of the program that will actually show up. Will it be the team that has defeated every ranked opponent that it has played this season (Louisville, Michigan State, Kentucky)? Or will it be the team that has suffered losses to UAB, Texas, Miami and Wake Forest? Saturday’s matchup at Syracuse might be this team’s toughest test thus far. The Orange do most things well. They’re a Ken Pomeroy gem. They’re great on the offensive glass, they don’t commit many turnovers, they force plenty of turnovers, they defend well, and they’re loaded -- the same situation that North Carolina has encountered and overcome multiple times against ranked opponents.

Prediction: North Carolina 82, Syracuse 80

No. 9 Iowa State at Oklahoma, noon ET, ESPNU: When I was in Ames earlier this week for Iowa State-Baylor, Cyclones fans told me that they were nervous about this game. Lon Kruger’s program has given other nationally ranked opponents fits this season. The Sooners are fifth in the country with 87.0 PPG scoring average. On paper, Iowa State is certainly the better team. And the Cyclones are coming off a 15-point whipping of Baylor. But this is their third true road game of the season. Plus, there’s a gigantic matchup versus Kansas coming on Monday. This is dangerous for the Cyclones because Oklahoma is good enough to ruin Iowa State’s undefeated record, especially if Fred Hoiberg’s program gets caught looking ahead.

Prediction: Iowa State 82, Oklahoma 75

No. 25 Kansas State at No. 18 Kansas, 2 p.m. ET, ESPN: San Diego State became just the third team to beat Kansas in Allen Fieldhouse over the past 115 games. Think about that. That’s a tremendous streak. The Jayhawks rarely lose at the Phog. But Bill Self’s current assembly is still figuring things out. That’s fine in early December. But it should be troubling in early January, especially when Kansas has so much competition at the top of the Big 12, perhaps the best league in the country pound for pound. And the Jayhawks are playing a confident Wildcats team that is nationally ranked after upsetting Oklahoma State last weekend. Kansas State has a stubborn defense that can exploit KU’s knack for committing turnovers (K-State is 39th in defensive turnover rate per Ken Pomeroy). Can and will, however, are two different things.

Prediction: Kansas 79, Kansas State 76

Sunday

No. 20 Iowa at No. 3 Ohio State, 1:30 p.m. ET, CBS: Ohio State nearly knocked off Michigan State in East Lansing after recovering from a 17-point deficit earlier this week. That’s really all you need to know about the Buckeyes. Their defensive prowess and guts have anchored the program all season. This wasn’t their first close call, but it was more proof that it will take a 40-minute effort (and possibly extra time) to beat Thad Matta’s program. For 30 minutes, Iowa outplayed Wisconsin on Sunday. Illinois’ lopsided loss in Madison on Wednesday should put the Hawkeyes’ performance in Madison in the proper perspective. Even after Fran McCaffery was ejected from that game, the Hawkeyes continued to fight. McCaffery’s team might be a legit Big Ten contender. Iowa would prove it by beating a top-tier squad on the road. Iowa will prove it by beating a top-tier Big Ten squad on the road.

Prediction: Iowa 69, Ohio State 68

Xavier at Creighton, 3 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network: Grant Gibbs’ knee injury is a major blow for Creighton. The Bluejays could have lost star Doug McDermott too. McDermott suffered a shoulder injury in a win over DePaul earlier this week. But he’ll be available this weekend for a critical Big East battle with Xavier. The Musketeers haven’t lost since late November when they ended the month on a three-game losing streak. They outplayed preseason title favorite Marquette on Thursday night behind Semaj Christon’s 28-point effort. Creighton, Villanova and Xavier are all 3-0 in league play. So Sunday’s matchup could be critical in the race, even though it’s early. The next time Xavier faces Creighton (March 1), Gibbs should be back in the mix. But even without him, Creighton will tough to beat in Omaha.

Prediction: Creighton 90, Xavier 88 (overtime)

With expansion, ACC gets its depth back

October, 30, 2013
10/30/13
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The previous time the ACC expanded -- in a move clearly made to boost football -- the impact on basketball simply equated to scheduling more games. The league didn’t get stronger. In fact, in some ways it appeared to get weaker.

The latest expansion will be different, league coaches and players say. Newcomers Syracuse, Notre Dame and Pittsburgh -- with Louisville joining in 2014 -- will elevate the ACC back to what some would say is its rightful standing as the nation’s best basketball conference.

“Our league now -- the depth of the league, the tradition, the history, the success that all the programs have had -- is unmatched,” North Carolina coach Roy Williams said.

[+] EnlargeC.J. Fair
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesSyracuse forward C.J. Fair is hoping the Orange can end the stranglehold Duke and UNC have had on ACC bragging rights.
The depth. That’s what the ACC has been sorely missing. Virginia, Wake Forest, NC State and Georgia Tech used to be reasons why the conference was strong. But none of those programs has been consistent the past decade.

As the first expansion proved, depth doesn’t come from merely adding schools to the mix. Miami, Boston College and Virginia Tech have combined to win one regular-season league title. On four occasions, one of those teams has finished last in the conference.

The Irish, Orange and Panthers, however, are expected to live in the upper echelon of the conference, as they did in the Big East. Pitt finished fourth or better in the 16-team Big East in three of the past four seasons, including winning the 2011 regular-season title. The team that finished second to Pitt that season was Notre Dame, which placed third or better in two of the past three seasons.

Syracuse and eventually Louisville, both of which have both won national titles and made multiple Final Four appearances, add historically elite-level programs to the league. Syracuse has the potential to immediately loosen Duke and North Carolina’s vise grip on the crown.

“I read a stat as far as Duke and North Carolina -- they’re the only two teams that be winning it,” Syracuse forward C.J. Fair said. “We want to win the ACC and start off right and have bragging rights early.”

The ACC has been shallow for too long, dependent on Duke and North Carolina to carry the league. The pair from Tobacco Road has accounted for at least a share of every conference regular-season title but three since 1997, and 10 of the league’s 13 Final Four appearances in that same span.

Consider that since Georgia Tech appeared in the 2004 national title game, no team from the league outside of the Blue Devils and Tar Heels has reached the NCAA tournament’s Elite Eight, and only five have been to the Sweet 16.

Only four teams from the ACC received NCAA tournament bids last season. That has been closer to the norm than the exception since expanding to 12 teams in the 2005-06 season.

In eight seasons, the league put only four teams in the Big Dance on four occasions. Considering North Carolina and Duke made it in each of those seasons where the ACC had only four teams in the tournament, that means only two other programs were representing the conference.

Compare that to the span of 1992 to 2004, when as a nine-member league, the ACC received six tournament bids on five occasions.

“Those were glory days in the ACC ... But you know what, I think bigger glory days are coming with this thing,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said.

The ACC had its best seasons in 2006-07 and 2008-09, when seven teams received NCAA tournament bids. Brey believes that number will only increase based on how the depth of the Big East bolstered its tournament bids.

“We had years where we were under .500 in the league in early February, but you have enough big games on your schedule where if you get one or two of them, they’re RPI top 50, top 25 wins, all of a sudden you’re 9-9 and you’re on the board,” Brey said. “You’re never dead in a league like this.”

Thanks to the expansion, the ACC will feel alive again.

Hoops Central: Media Days Live

October, 16, 2013
10/16/13
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The college basketball regular season begins in just three weeks, and Wednesday marks the unofficial tipoff for four conferences holding their annual media day.

Our reporters are in place and ready to bring you the latest, so keep this page open throughout the day as we bring you tweets, quotes, pictures and more from Charlotte (ACC), Memphis (American Athletic), New York (Big East) and Hoover, Ala. (SEC).

1. Inside Carolina first reported Monday morning that all charges against North Carolina's P.J. Hairston were dismissed on Friday, stemming from a June 5 arrest that included a misdemeanor marijuana possession. A Durham County clerk confirmed to ESPN.com that the charge was dropped, although Hairston does have a speeding ticket to be heard on Aug. 2. North Carolina coach Roy Williams issued a statement last week that there would be serious consequences for Hairston's actions but the school has been waiting for the legal process to end. Well, now it essentially has but Williams was clear that there are no games or practices in July. So, it will be interesting to see how UNC handles Hairston in the fall. He put himself in a position to be in trouble but now has escaped any serious legal issues. There has been a lot written about this case, the rental car, who rented it and how the Tar Heels have dealt with the situation. North Carolina can survive if Hairston isn't available early in the season. Whether the Tar Heels have him or not for the potential showdown against Louisville in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off game at the Mohegan Sun may not matter. Hairston could have declared for the draft. He did not and chose to return. But NBA teams are aware of this incident and will be watching him going forward. The onus is on him to behave and be an upstanding citizen for UNC and in the area if he wants the questions to fade.

2. First Steve Forbes, now Scott Monarch is back in Division I. Forbes was part of the Tennessee staff that got dumped over the allegations from a barbecue with a recruit and subsequent statements over the event that followed. Forbes didn't lie to investigators but still had a one-year show cause. Forbes was a successful junior college coach at Northwest Florida, winning 66 games and reaching the national title game before landing back in a high-profile position as an assistant at 2013 Final Four participant Wichita State. A year ago, Monarch was fired at Marquette after not giving truthful responses over whether or not he provided gear and transportation to a recruit. Head coach Buzz Williams had to sit a game to start the Big East schedule due to the violation, even though he wasn't a participant. Now, Monarch is back in Division I at North Texas, working for former Marquette associate head coach Tony Benford. The coaching bonds are strong and these show how coaches can come back from an NCAA issue as long as they have relationships and networked well. Burn the bridges, turn your back on someone and getting re-hired soon in Division I will prove to be extremely difficult.

3. Transfers are coming to every program in America. Deal. No program is above the add on of players. And coaches are realizing that they must add players mid-stream who they may not have recruited. The latest examples are at TCU where the Horned Frogs added Chris Washburn Jr. from UTEP and Trey Zeigler of Pitt. Georgia Tech added Tennessee's Trae Golden. It has become increasingly apparent that programs can't survive without adding a transfer at some point to balance the classes or simply for an infusion of talent.
The 2013-14 season should be a landmark year for ACC basketball. Syracuse, Notre Dame and Pitt will join the league next season. And Louisville will follow a year later in 2014.

The Big Ten has held the “best conference in America” title in recent years. But the ACC could be a juggernaut that overtakes the Chicago-based league next season.

But one of the vital components in the latter scenario involves North Carolina returning to a national perch following last season’s up-and-down campaign. And that possibility is tied to the availability of junior P.J. Hairston (14.6 PPG), the team’s leading scorer in 2012-13.

The details of his arrest earlier this month are still somewhat murky. But this much is clear: police discovered drugs in a rented vehicle occupied by Hairston and two other men, and a gun was found at the scene during the highly publicized stop in Durham, N.C.

On Monday, Roy Williams discussed the situation in a conversation with USA Today. Williams told the publication that he’s awaiting all the facts related to the case. But he also mentioned the he has “some ideas” of a possible punishment for Hairston, who opted to play another year of college basketball after considering the NBA a few months ago.

From Eric Prisbell of USA Today:
"We are doing one thing: We are waiting until all the information comes out," Williams told USA TODAY Sports on Monday. "The good thing is, I don't have to make a decision right now because we're in summer school, fall semester has not started, basketball has not started. We're going to wait and see what happens. I've got some ideas, but right now those ideas are staying in my mind.

"I am waiting until all the facts come in and then I will take care of everything that needs to be taken care of."

Now, I think Williams is right to wait until the facts are revealed. Can’t punish a guy without knowing his true role in the matter.

Midway through June, however, Tar Heels fans still don’t know how the incident will affect one of the most crucial members of a squad that is expected to compete for the ACC crown next year.

So it’s still a waiting game in Chapel Hill.
Marcus PaigeAP Photo/Cal Sport MediaExpectations are high for North Carolina point guard Marcus Paige.
Editor's Note: This month, ESPN Insider's college basketball and recruiting experts are teaming up to examine how 15 of the nation's best recruiting classes will fit in with their teams in the 2013-14 season. Today's featured program: North Carolina. Check out the Nation blog each morning for a corresponding post on the key returnee for each of the 15 teams.

A few years ago, I watched this skinny kid from Iowa maneuver around his prep peers with ease during an elite AAU tournament. He didn’t have a college body yet, but he clearly had the tools any college coach would want his point guard to possess.

But Marcus Paige, like any freshman point guard, endured a variety of struggles last season.

Paige was thrust into a nontraditional, four-guard lineup. And the Tar Heels were as inconsistent, at times, as he was.

Like his squad, however, Paige finished strong. His freshman season was a solid one.

He recorded 14 points, four assists and three steals during North Carolina’s second-round victory over Villanova in the NCAA tournament.

He averaged 8.2 PPG, 4.2 APG and 1.4 SPG. He shot 34 percent from the 3-point line and 84 percent from the charity stripe.

Paige has the potential to continue the legacy of star point guards in North Carolina. Raymond Felton, Ty Lawson, Kendall Marshall and others were vital orchestrators for their respective squads.

And Paige is in that position now. He’s the most important returnee on a roster that’s filled with elite athletes.

Projections for North Carolina were uncertain immediately following the 2012-13 season.

James Michael McAdoo, P.J. Hairston and Reggie Bullock all considered turning pro. Hairston and McAdoo remained, while Bullock decided to take his talents to the NBA.

In that moment, the Tar Heels went from a team that might enter next season as a mid-tier ACC squad that would have been forced to rely on incoming freshmen Isaiah Hicks, Kennedy Meeks and Nate Britt to a squad that will enter 2013-14 as a national title contender.

Plus, there’s still the Andrew Wiggins mystery.

The Canadian stud will decide soon. And the Tar Heels are still on his list.

If Wiggins goes to Chapel Hill, then everything will be elevated for the program.

But coach Roy Williams has a solid group without him.

He has a team that features the manpower to do big things next season.

Duke will be stacked and Florida State will be a factor if Wiggins signs with the Seminoles. Plus, Notre Dame, Pitt and Syracuse are coming. The ACC will replace the Big Ten as college basketball’s powerhouse in the near future.

Duke and North Carolina tend to battle each year for the ACC crown. But that pattern will be challenged soon, especially with Louisville arriving in a year.

Yet, the Tar Heels remain relevant.

They’re bigger now with Hicks and Meeks. The young duo is vital. Now, McAdoo can utilize the inside-outside game that wowed NBA scouts when he was a freshman.

He was forced into the paint last season.

Hairston could have a breakout season, now that he’ll probably play a bigger role with Bullock gone.

But even if Wiggins enters the mix, the Tar Heels will need a maestro who can unify and guide the program to its potential.

A healthy Marshall, in my opinion, would have led the Tar Heels to the national championship game in 2012. They just weren’t the same team without him, despite the NBA talent that year’s roster boasted.

The Tar Heels have valuable components again, the kind they’ll need to compete in the super-sized ACC.

But Paige is the guy who must make it all work.

Flashes of potential were expected and accepted when he was just a freshman. Consistency, however, will be a necessity on both ends of the floor in 2013-14.

They need his leadership, too.

The ceiling is high for North Carolina if Paige starts next season the way he finished 2012-13.

Britt will give the Tar Heels some depth at point guard. But this is Paige’s show.

So he has to reduce his turnovers (2.5 TPG). He has to be in charge on the floor and off it. He has to be a threat on offense and defense.

That’s a lot of pressure for any sophomore.

But that’s just Paige’s reality.

North Carolina, per the norm, will be a preseason ACC contender again. To compete for the national title and climb the standings of the new and improved conference, however, the Tar Heels will need their young point guard to grow.

That’s why he’s so significant.

UNC's Williams gets 700th career win

March, 22, 2013
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Hall of Fame coach Roy Williams picked up his 700th career victory when North Carolina defeated Villanova 78-71 at the Sprint Center on Friday. But after the game, Williams said he was equally as proud of another number.

Twenty-five.

That’s how many wins Williams’ current crop of Tar Heels has achieved during what some would call a transition year. Considering UNC had four players selected in the top 17 of last summer’s NBA draft, the coaching job Williams has done in 2012-13 is one of the more impressive of his career.

Friday’s victory propelled UNC to a third-round NCAA tournament game against either Kansas or Western Kentucky. That hardly seemed like a possibility three months ago, when the Tar Heels were manhandled by a struggling Texas team that a few weeks earlier had lost to Division II Chaminade.

[+] EnlargeRoy Williams
Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesIn guiding North Carolina to the round of 32, Roy Williams picked up his 700th career coaching win.
“It was terrible,” guard Dexter Strickland said about the loss. “We didn’t have any experience. We didn’t know how to play with each other yet. We didn’t know the level of intensity we needed to play with as a team. We were just trying to find ourselves.”

Strickland paused.

“We’ve come a long way since then,” he said.

Indeed, North Carolina finished third in the ACC with a 12-6 record. During Friday’s first half, the eighth-seeded Tar Heels looked capable of making one of the more unlikely Final Four runs in school history.

Williams’ squad led by 20 points in the first half. The basket must’ve looked like hula-hoop to the Tar Heels, who shot 50 percent before the break.

North Carolina, however, became complacent in the second half and allowed the ninth-seeded Wildcats to take a 45-44 lead.

“We thought we were good enough to win this game,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said.

The Wildcats (20-14) almost did, keeping it close until the waning minutes, when some timely 3-point shooting by Reggie Bullock, P.J. Hairston and Marcus Paige helped North Carolina to victory. The Tar Heels closed out the win by making their last seven field goal attempts.

“There were a few moments, to say the least, when we were really ugly,” Williams said. “I loved the mental toughness of our team in the last eight or nine minutes.”

Williams deserves credit for developing that toughness. Hairston, Bullock and James Michael McAdoo are NBA-caliber players, but certainly not at the level -- at least not yet -- of some of the lottery picks of UNC’s past. This team has needed more molding and grooming and coaching than recent Tar Heel squads.

That’s why, in some ways, win No. 25 (against 10 losses) felt just as fulfilling to Williams as victory No. 700.

“I’m human,” Williams said. “I wanted to get 700. I’d like to get 800, 900, 1,000, 1,500 ... but I know that’s not going to happen.

“My focus was not on that, it really wasn’t. I was trying to get No. 25 and have this team stay and play in another game.”

Video: UNC-Villanova breakdown

March, 22, 2013
3/22/13
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Seth Greenberg goes to the game film to preview the round of 64 matchup between No. 8 seed North Carolina and No. 9 seed Villanova.

Top brother duos in college hoops history

January, 23, 2013
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On Wednesday at Miami (7 ET on ESPN), Seth Curry needs 12 points for the Curry brothers to pass Larry and Eddie Bird for the second-most by a pair of brothers in Division I history.

Barring injury, the Curry brothers should pass the Hansbroughs in February for the most ever.


Below is one man’s opinion on the top 10 pairs of brothers to play college basketball. Just missing the list? Tyler and Cody Zeller.

10. Dominique and Gerald Wilkins
Both Wilkins brothers were more successful NBA players, but that shouldn’t diminish what they accomplished in the college ranks. Dominique is arguably the best player in Georgia history, and its only player to win SEC Player of the Year. Younger brother Gerald helped guide Chattanooga to the NCAA Tournament in his first season, and his 21.0 points per game as a senior is the highest in school history.

9. Tom and Dick Van Arsdale
The most accomplished twins to ever play basketball, it wasn’t just looks that made the two difficult to distinguish. Tom averaged 17.4 points and 10.0 rebounds in his three seasons at Indiana, while Dick averaged 17.2 points and 10.0 rebounds.

8. Chuck and Wesley Person
Only three players in Auburn history have scored 2,000 points. Two of them were brothers. Chuck is the school’s all-time leader with 2,311 points, while Wesley is third at 2,066. While both were elite at Auburn, it’s worth noting that neither won SEC Player of the Year.

7. Mark and Brent Price
At a school famous for producing guards, no one had a better career at Georgia Tech than Mark Price. He was the first freshman to lead the ACC in scoring, and was the Yellow Jackets’ leading scorer in all four seasons. Brent Price split his college career between South Carolina and Oklahoma. He was an All-Big Eight selection as senior, once scoring 56 points in a game.

6. George and Ed Mikan
Named of ESPN’s 25 greatest college basketball players in 2008, George Mikan helped revolutionize the game with his height. A two-time national player of the year, he led DePaul to the NIT title in 1945, averaging 40.0 PPG in that tournament. A year younger, Ed was also a member of that championship team. He also went on to become a member of DePaul’s Hall of Fame and play in the NBA.

5. Ed and Charles O’Bannon
The O’Bannon brothers combined to bring UCLA a national title in 1995. Ed won the Wooden Award that year, as well as the Most Outstanding Player of the tournament. Charles was an All-Pac-10 selection in each of the two years after Ed left, making it five consecutive years than an O’Bannon was so honored.

4. Larry and Eddie Bird
No two brothers have scored more points at the same school. Larry Bird requires no introduction. Over three seasons at Indiana State, he averaged 30.3 PPG and 13.3 RPG. In 2008, ESPN’s panel of experts named him the ninth-greatest college player of all-time. But did you know he had a brother? Eddie Bird came to Indiana State a decade later and averaged double figures in all four seasons with the Sycamores. He’s still sixth on their all-time scoring list.

3. Stephen and Seth Curry
Barring injury, the Curry brothers will be the highest-scoring duo of brothers in Division I history. Older brother Stephen led Davidson to the Elite Eight as a sophomore and finished as the school’s all-time leading scorer despite playing for only three years. In fact, only five players have scored more total points in a three-year college career. Seth’s career at Duke isn’t nearly as prolific, but the senior captain could help lead the Blue Devils to a national title.

2. Bernard and Albert King
The best player in Tennessee history, Bernard King won SEC Player of the Year in all three seasons in Knoxville. He averaged more than 25 PPG in all three seasons. Overshadowed by his older brother, Albert was certainly no slouch. He averaged in double figures in all four seasons at Maryland and is the fourth-leading scorer in school history. Albert garnered ACC Player of the Year honors as a junior.

1. Tyler and Ben Hansbrough
No pair of brothers has scored more combined points than the 4,485 from the Hansbroughs. Tyler Hansbrough finished his North Carolina career as the ACC’s all-time leading scorer (2,872 points) and eighth all-time with 1,219 rebounds. One of only five players with 2,800 points and 1,200 rebounds, it’s no stretch to call him one of the greatest college basketball players of all time. But younger brother Ben was no slouch. In 2011, he averaged 18.4 PPG at Notre Dame and was named Big East Player of the Year.

Honorable Mention
George and Derrick Gervin, Horace and Harvey Grant, Blake and Taylor Griffin, Brook and Robin Lopez, Jay and Sam Vincent, Gus and Ray Williams, Cody and Tyler Zeller.
North Carolina chancellor Holden Thorp put it bluntly when asked why the ACC Council of Presidents chose to add Louisville over Cincinnati and UConn.

Forget academics.

This was all about sports. You have got to appreciate the honesty in his comments.

"It was really all of the presidents who discussed it, and I think that what we felt was that what the ACC needed the most was to add the most exciting sports program that we could," Thorp said on an ACC teleconference Wednesday discussing Louisville's addition. "That is the way to ensure that the success of the ACC in sports was successful enough to allow us to keep our group together and we talked about that extensively.

"But Louisville, [president] Jim Ramsey is an excellent leader in higher education and he’s done a lot with their university. It’s on an upward trajectory. We feel very good about the addition of Louisville in every respect, but our logic was that we wanted to make the ACC as exciting a sports conference as we possibly could and we felt that Louisville unambiguously did that for us the best."

Commissioner John Swofford was then asked specifically about whether football was the deciding factor in adding the Cardinals.

"The answer would be that we felt Louisville was the best fit for the Atlantic Coast Conference at this point in time in every respect," Swofford said. "When you look at Louisville, you see a university and an athletic program that has all the arrows pointed up. Tremendous uptick there, tremendous energy, so that’s my response to that. It’s always an overall fit in every respect, and I think that’s what we found."

So does this ensure a stable ACC moving forward?

"In working with our presidents over the last 10 days and listening to them and their commitment to the league and to each other, and now adding Louisville and the collective strength of this conference athletically and academically, I couldn’t feel any better about the future of this league," Swofford said.

A few other notes from the call:
  • Louisville will take Maryland's spot in the Atlantic Division, placing the Cardinals in the same grouping as Florida State, Clemson, NC State, Boston College, Wake Forest and Syracuse. Louisville also will take Maryland's spot as Virginia's crossover scheduling partner. The Atlantic is lookin' pretty tough these days.
  • Swofford said there has been no discussion about raising the $50 million exit fee.
  • As for the possibility of the ACC creating its own television network, Swofford said there had been some preliminary discussions but added, "You don’t do that just for the sake of doing that. You do that because it’s the right thing for your league financially and from an exposure standpoint moving ahead. ... We’ll continue to look at that. It seems to be the sexy thing in today’s world, but it also needs to be the right thing and the thing that’s best for our particular conference."

Maui Invitational Day 1 roundup

November, 20, 2012
11/20/12
7:44
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LAHAINA, Hawaii -- Here are some observations from the first day of the EA Sports Maui Invitational:
  • This is clearly a down season for talent at the Maui Invitational. The names on the front of the jerseys are all impressive -- North Carolina, Texas, Illinois, USC, Marquette, Butler, Mississippi State -- but every single program, with the possible exception of UNC, is having a down season.The USC and Mississippi State programs are in shambles. Both teams aren’t even close to being competitive against a solid D-1 team.

    Texas, after being blown out by Chaminade, doesn’t look much better. Yes, they were missing point guard Myck Kabongo, but even with Kabongo the Longhorns have major issues. Chaminade shot just 37 percent from the field for the game and it still won by 13.

    Illinois dominated USC, but it’s hard to tell whether Illinois is actually playing better under new head coach John Groce or whether USC is just that bad.

    Marquette and Butler played the most entertaining game of the day, but it was marred with fouls, poor shooting and mistakes. Neither team boasts an elite player on its squad.

    As for North Carolina -- yes it blew out Mississippi State -- but as far as NBA talent goes, the Tar Heels are having a down season too. After forward James Michael McAdoo, it’s unclear whether they have another first-round draft prospect on their roster.

    Nevertheless, if UNC doesn’t roll through this field, it will be a major upset.
  • Tomorrow’s best game should be Butler versus North Carolina at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN. North Carolina has much more talent, but the Bulldogs are scrappy and well coached. The Tar Heels are more of a finesse team. The physicality of Butler could give the Heels problems.The rest of the field looks like a wash. Marquette should roll over Mississippi State. Texas versus USC will be interesting only if the NCAA somehow clears Kabongo.

    Illinois will be the heavy favorites to beat Chaminade in the finale at 10:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2. Yes, the Silverswords just knocked off the Longhorns, but they didn’t play particularly well. The Illini should roll.
  • A number of NBA GMs -- including the Celtics’ Danny Ainge, the Jazz’s Kevin O’Connor, Bulls’ Gar Forman, the Warriors Bob Myers and the Blazers Neil Olshey -- were in attendance. Overall, they are seeing the same phenomenon here that they are seeing everywhere. This is a down season, talent wise, in the NCAA. “If Cody Zeller, Shabazz Muhammad, Nerlens Noel and James McAdoo are your top four picks, it’s going to be an ugly, ugly draft.”

    Other than McAdoo, I couldn’t find a scout or GM convinced there was another first-round prospect here. If Kabongo plays, that could be two. But that explains, in part, why the field is so weak.
  • There were some good performances by top prospects on Monday. Perhaps the best was Illinois’ Brandon Paul. Scouts have loved Paul’s combination of elite athletic ability and scoring prowess for years. However, they’ve been puzzled by his inconsistency. He had a 43-point game against Ohio State last season. But there have been plenty of others in which he completely disappeared.

    He seems to be more settled and more consistent under his new head coach. He was averaging nearly 20 points a game coming into the tournament and scored 26 points and shot 6-for-9 from 3-point territory on Monday night in Illinois’ win.

    UNC’s Reggie Bullock was on fire against MSU. He had 16 points in 22 minutes and was 4-for-5 from beyond the arc.

    As I detailed in my Rapid Reaction to the Butler-Marquette game, Vander Blue and Khyle Marshall also had terrific games on Monday night.
  • There are many NBA scouts who believe both P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald could start on most high major NCAA teams and they probably would average 16-20 points. Once the game quickly got out of hand, Roy Williams turned to both of them and both delivered. The two combined for 39 points and shot 10-for-17 from behind the 3-point line.
  • UNC has a number of talented freshmen: Joel James, Brice Johnson and J.P. Tokoto. All three got plenty of playing time on Monday. Of the three, it was James who shined on Monday. He was a significant defensive presence for the Tar Heels. He's still trying to get a feel for the game and could still probably lose another 10 to 15 pounds, but his seven rebounds and two blocked shots, combined with just a general toughness in the middle gave NBA scouts an encouraging glimpse into his future if he continues to develop.
  • The most memorable moment of the day was Rotnei Clarke’s buzzer-beating heave to defeat Marquette. Here’s how both Clarke and Marquette coach Buzz Williams described the moment.

    Williams: “He shot it off one foot from behind his head from 40 feet. It was contested. As soon as the ball left his hand, I knew it was a basket. The trajectory and everything was perfect.”

    Clarke: “It was just kind of a scramble play. I was dribbling around, and I almost thought about flipping it to Roosevelt Jones, who was going down the lane line just to have him drive and make a play, [but] ended up keeping it, and got through and got around a couple of guys, and just let it up there, and luckily it went in.”

Maui Invitational primer

November, 19, 2012
11/19/12
9:35
AM ET
This year marks the 30th anniversary of the game that tiny Chaminade (then an NAIA school) upset Ralph Sampson’s top-ranked Virginia team on Dec. 23, 1982 -- leading to the creation of the Maui Classic (now EA Sports Maui Invitational). Because there are plenty of teams in the field with plenty of question marks and plenty to prove, there may be plenty of room for an upset or two this season.

The basics: Nov. 19-21 at Lahaina Civic Center in Maui, Hawaii

The set matchups: Monday -- Butler vs. Marquette, 3:30 p.m. ET; Mississippi State vs. UNC, 6 p.m.; Texas vs. Chaminade, 9:30 p.m.; USC vs. Illinois, midnight. (Consolation games and semifinals on Tuesday; consolation games and championship game Wednesday.)

The favorite: North Carolina. Although the 11th-ranked Tar Heels are still getting their bearings after losing four starters from last season’s Elite Eight team, they’ve got some talented pieces to meld together, beginning with sophomore forward James Michael McAdoo and junior wing Reggie Bullock. This three-day tournament will be an important test, though, for UNC’s ballhandling (freshman Marcus Paige is the starter), scoring (it has struggled in stretches) and confidence. If any falter, so could the Heels.

FIVE PLAYERS TO WATCH

Javan Felix, Texas -- With Myck Kabongo sidelined (see below), the point guard is one of three freshmen to start for the Longhorns. He’s struggled with his shooting over two games (5-for-18), but even more worrisome is that he’s struggled to hold on to the ball. He recorded 11 turnovers to go with 10 assists in wins over Coppin State and Fresno State, and he’ll need to be more efficient this week.

Trent Lockett, Marquette -- The former Arizona State forward transferred to be closer to his ill mother and adds a scoring threat to a team that lost last season’s leading scorers, Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder. After averaging 13 points and 5.8 rebounds for the Sun Devils last season, he’s averaged 7.5 points and 4.5 rebounds this season.

[+] EnlargeJames Michael McAdoo
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesJames Michael McAdoo has been the leading scorer and rebounder for the Tar Heels in each of their games so far.
James Michael McAdoo, UNC -- Everyone wondered whether the sophomore could consistently pick up where he left off in March -- and he has. The forward has been both confident and focused, and is leading the Tar Heels with 21.3 points and 11 rebounds per game over their first three wins. With his team’s inexperience in the post, he’ll need to continue to come up big for UNC to be successful.

Omar Oraby, USC -- The 7-foot-2, 260-pound transfer from Rice was granted an NCAA hardship waiver to play this season just before the regular-season opener, and he has taken advantage of the opportunity. He averaged 10.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.5 blocks off the bench in the Trojans’ two wins and should be a physical post challenge for foes in this tournament.

D.J. Richardson, Illinois -- The senior guard capped a 16-point rally with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer in overtime to top Hawaii 78-77 in the wee hours of Saturday morning. You might not have seen the play, considering the late timing. But the team’s leading rebounder (5.7 per game) and third-leading scorer (11.0) needs to keep coming up big for the Illini to stay in the winner’s bracket.

FIVE BIG QUESTIONS

Will Myck Kabongo do anything more than watch? Texas’ sophomore point guard was allowed to travel with the team to Hawaii, but he has not been cleared to play as the NCAA continues to investigate him for possibly receiving impermissible benefits during the offseason. His status could be a difference-maker in this tournament.

Will Butler start connecting from the outside? Arkansas transfer Rotnei Clarke and freshman Kellen Dunham were supposed to help fix Butler’s outside shooting woes from a year ago, when the Bulldogs shot worse than 30 percent from beyond the 3-point arc. But the duo are a combined 10-for-28 in two games (including 2-for-10 in a 15-point loss to Xavier) on 3-pointers, and the Bulldogs are shooting only 31 percent from long distance.

Can Mississippi State stay healthy? It needs to, because the Bulldogs have only six healthy scholarship players with which to play three games in three days. Junior guard Jalen Steele, who recorded 16 points in MSU’s season-opening loss, broke his wrist in the team’s win over Florida Atlantic. The Bulldogs also suspended forward Colin Borchert last week for violating team rules, and freshmen Jacoby Davis and DeAndre Applewhite are also out for the season with knee injuries.

Can UNC keep its shooting sharp? The Tar Heels, who need outside shooting to be a strength, finally started hitting from the outside during Friday night’s win at Long Beach State, making 10 of 27 3-pointers, including six during a pivotal 23-7 second-half run. That was after beginning the season by making only a combined 7 of 27 3-point shots in their first two games. Wings Reggie Bullock, P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald need to keep connecting.

Will Chaminade pull another upset? Probably not. But on the 30th anniversary, it’s fun to wonder whether the now-Division II school could do it again ....

THE PICKS

Opening games: Marquette over Butler, UNC over Mississippi State, Texas over Chaminade, Illinois over USC
Semifinals: UNC over Marquette, Texas over Illinois
Championship game: UNC over Texas
Tournament bracket for the EA SPORTS Maui Invitational

When and where: Nov. 19-21 at Lahaina Civic Center in Maui, Hawaii

Initial thoughts: This year marks the 30th anniversary of what many consider the greatest upset in college basketball history -- when tiny Chaminade, then an NAIA school, upset Ralph Sampson’s top-ranked Virginia team on Dec. 23, 1982. The stunning upset (in what was supposed to be an easy stopover game for the Cavaliers, on their way home from Tokyo) spurred creation of the Maui Classic, now known as the EA Sports Maui Invitational. Chaminade, now a Division II school, still serves as host, and it will be interesting to see if there is a surprise or two this season. After all, North Carolina will still be rejiggering its lineup after losing four starters to the NBA draft; Texas has to figure out how to replace J’Covan Brown’s 20.1 ppg; and Marquette will still be looking to see which members of last season’s supporting cast will step up and stand out without Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom.

[+] EnlargeMyck Kabongo
Brendan Maloney/US PresswireSophomore point guard Myck Kabongo will direct a talented group of freshmen at Texas.
Meanwhile, Illinois (John Groce) and Mississippi State (Rick Ray) will be breaking in new coaches; USC’s Kevin O’Neill will be melding a passel of new players (including a couple of transfers and a couple of guys sidelined by injuries last season); and Butler will be trying to prove it can shoot the ball a whole lot better than 2011-12 (28 percent on 3-pointers). Chaminade, by the way, holds an all-time record of 6-76 in this tournament.

Matchup I can’t wait to see: Illinois-USC could be interesting just because everything is so new. After losing 12 of its final 14 games, Illinois fired Bruce Weber and replaced him with Groce, who led Ohio to the Sweet 16 in March. USC is also coming off a bad season, having won only one conference game. But a couple of transfers from Wake Forest (Ari Stewart and J.T. Terrell) and a high-scoring forward from UC Irvine (Eric Wise), plus the return of point guard Jio Fontan and center Dewayne Dedmon from knee injuries, have folks wondering if the Trojans can bounce back all the way to March.

Potential matchup I’d like to see: UNC-Texas. Granted, these two are scheduled to play in Austin on Dec. 19, but why not a preview in paradise? The title game would feature a bunch of rookie big men -- Joel James and Brice Johnson for UNC; Cameron Ridley, Prince Ibeh and Connor Lammert for Texas -- with a chance to make a big impact.

Five players to watch

Vander Blue, Marquette: It’s hard to get a whole lot of attention when you’re in a starting lineup with guys like Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom. But now that they’ve gone to the NBA, the Golden Eagles need the junior to improve upon his 8.4 points and 4.4 rebounds from last season.

Rotnei Clarke, Butler: The Bulldogs are hoping the senior guard -- who sat out last season per NCAA transfer rules -- will add some accuracy from outside. He averaged 15.2 points and made 43.8 percent of his 3-pointers during his junior season at Arkansas before opting out. Butler made fewer than 30 percent of its 3-point shots last season.

Myck Kabongo, Texas: The Longhorns bring in a deep recruiting class, led by heralded center Cameron Ridley. But they’ll need Kabongo, a sophomore point guard, to get him the ball. And to be a strong leader to the newbies.

Marcus Paige, North Carolina: Whether the freshman point guard begins the season as a starter probably depends on how well senior Dexter Strickland has recuperated from February ACL surgery. Either way, the Iowa product (who also had foot surgery during the offseason) will be counted on to contribute quickly. And a lot.

J.T. Terrell, USC: Trojans coach Kevin O’Neill is excited about the addition of Terrell, and the 6-3 guard will get a chance to show why. He averaged 11.1 points and 1.6 assists at Wake Forest in 2010-11, but played at Peninsula College in Washington last season. Terrell withdrew from Wake after he was arrested last September and charged with driving while impaired.

Title-game prediction

North Carolina over Texas. The Tar Heels preceded their last two national championships by winning the Maui Invitational. And although they don’t have that caliber of a team this season, they do have some talented returning veterans (Dexter Strickland, Leslie McDonald, Reggie Bullock) already out to prove they are being overlooked.

Who others are picking:

Eamonn Brennan: Butler over Texas
Andy Katz: North Carolina over Texas
Jason King: North Carolina over Texas
Myron Medcalf: North Carolina over Texas
Dana O'Neil: North Carolina over Texas
Quincy AcyNelson Chenault/US PresswireQuincy Acy's superior offensive skills help make him Baylor's most indispensable player.
When North Carolina guard Kendall Marshall fractured his wrist in Sunday's win against Creighton, it was momentarily easy to forget Marshall isn't the most talented or productive player on his team. There's Tyler Zeller and Harrison Barnes and John Henson, and that's just for starters. So why is losing Marshall such a big deal?

Because he is, without question, UNC's most important player. The most efficient? No. The most gifted? Probably not. But there's little question Marshall -- with his visionary, table-setting passing (second nationally in assists), intelligent tempo management and offensive initiation, and the lack of a viable backup -- was/is the most crucial personnel component to Carolina's style, identity and ultimately success.

Which got us thinking: Who is everyone else's Marshall? Who's the most indispensable player on each of the Sweet 16 rosters, the one each team could least afford to lose? Well, we're glad you (OK, we) asked. Here's what we came up with:

South Region

No. 1 Kentucky: Anthony Davis, forward -- No overthinking this one. Sure, there's an argument to be made for Marquis Teague, who appeared for much of the season to be Kentucky's lone potential weakness; Teague's two months of consistently increased success -- culminating in a brilliant performance in a rout of Iowa State -- have cast doubts about whether he could be easily replaced. But one can envision a scenario in which guard Doron Lamb, whose ballhandling is probably slightly underrated at this point, would be able to get UK into its offense. Coach John Calipari would find a way to make it work. Without Davis, the Cats lose a downright transcendent shot-blocking force and the source of countless easy baskets on the other end of the floor, the type of player who opposing coaches frequently say "changes the game." It's Davis, and it's hard to find the counterintuitive argument here.

No. 3 Baylor: Quincy Acy, forward -- While not the most talented big man in Baylor's lineup, Acy's absence would irreparably harm the Bears for two obvious reasons: He scores easy buckets in the low block, and he rebounds. Perry Jones III does some of these same things, too, but hardly to the level Acy does (and not nearly as consistently), and the Bears -- a very good offensive rebounding team that struggles on the defensive glass -- would not be nearly as good on offense were Acy not around to clean up so many misses.

No. 4 Indiana: Cody Zeller, forward -- Again, no use in overthinking this. Zeller is by far IU's leader in offensive efficiency and rebounding, and he has changed the way the Hoosiers -- who were immensely foul-prone the past three years under Tom Crean -- guard the rim and chase down misses. Plus, without him, Indiana's big man rotation would consist of Tom Pritchard and Derek Elston. We've seen that movie before. It was not critically acclaimed.

No. 10 Xavier: Kenny Frease, center -- Sticking with the all-big-men theme here, Frease is the most indispensable player because Xavier really doesn't have another guy who can do what he does, primarily on the glass. If star guard Tu Holloway went missing, the Musketeers would certainly lack for offensive creativity, but they'd have another talented (if mercurial) guard in Mark Lyons, who would no doubt be more than willing to hoist a few extra shots. Without Frease, Chris Mack's team would be in no-man's-land on the low block.

West Region

No. 1 Michigan State: Draymond Green, forward -- When you do this much for your team, your membership on this list requires no explanation. Really, it's not even close.

No. 3 Marquette: Darius Johnson-Odom, guard -- Jae Crowder's breakout senior season has been a huge factor in this team's success, no doubt about it. But DJO's relentless, attacking, bruising style -- not to mention his all-court game, his lockdown perimeter defense and his ability to go end-to-end on the fast break both with rim finishes and pull-up jumpers -- gives this Marquette team its hard-won identity.

No. 4 Louisville: Gorgui Dieng, forward -- I promise, this list isn't all forwards. The obvious answer here is Peyton Siva, but the Cardinals already have a pretty willing on-ball defender and shot-happy penetrator in guard Russ Smith, while Dieng -- a crazy-lanky shot-blocker, rebounder and defensive anchor -- has keyed so much of the Cards' No. 2-ranked per-possession defense this season.

No. 7 Florida: Kenny Boynton, guard -- The original temptation was to go with another big man, in this case Patric Young, but let's be real: The Gators don't use their frontcourt on offense anyway. Which is why Boynton's ability not only to take a lot of long-range jumpers but actually make them at a high rate is so important. That isn't always the case with the rest of this backcourt. Plus, Boynton -- with the possible exception of Bradley Beal -- happens to be Florida's most creative scorer off the dribble, one of the Gators' few players who can do more than chuck long-range shots to fuel this high-powered offense.

[+] EnlargeLorenzo Brown
Tony Dejak/AP PhotoLorenzo Brown and NC State will be facing high expectations this upcoming season.
Midwest Region

No. 1 North Carolina: Kendall Marshall, guard -- By now, you get the idea.

No. 2 Kansas: Tyshawn Taylor, guard -- The obvious choice is Thomas Robinson and, you know, duh: Dude's a national player of the year candidate for a reason. But at this stage of the season, Kansas' ability to win a national title rests in large part on Taylor's play at the point guard spot. If he is on -- attacking the rim and finding teammates without coughing up turnovers -- he's truly the biggest X factor on Bill Self's team. If he's off, the Jayhawks turn to Elijah Johnson, Travis Releford and ... Conner Teahan? The defense rests.

No. 11 North Carolina State: Lorenzo Brown, guard -- C.J. Leslie has blossomed into this team's most impressive player, but its point guard deserves as much if not more credit for the unlikely late-season Sweet 16 run this Wolfpack team has somehow managed to piece together. On a team with no tournament experience and plenty of young players, Brown's calming influence on the ball is a major asset.

No. 13 Ohio: D.J. Cooper, guard -- Cooper demonstrated his worth with huge shots down the stretch against a South Florida team that prides itself on disallowing exactly the kind of offensive display Cooper generated. For a team with the No. 2-ranked opponents' turnover percentage in the country, Cooper's 4.3 percent steals rate (the 22nd-ranked individual mark in the country) truly makes it go.

East Region

No. 1 Syracuse: C.J. Fair, forward -- It's hard to pick from Syracuse's still-stacked-minus-Fab lineup, but Fair gets the nod. With all due respect to Scoop Jardine, Dion Waiters, Kris Joseph and Brandon Triche, the Orange wouldn't exactly hurt for scoring guards were one of them to suffer an injury. If Fair went down, Jim Boeheim would lose his last truly effective big man, and the only viable interior option this side of Rakeem Christmas and Baye Keita.

No. 2 Ohio State: William Buford, guard -- This is a bit of a tricky one, because there's simply no replacing Jared Sullinger's interior prowess or Aaron Craft's incredible perimeter defense. But if OSU is truly a national title threat -- and it looks the part thus far -- that's because Buford, who struggled with his shot in nearly every Ohio State loss this season, isn't cashing in from the perimeter. Having Buford as a go-to option on the outside only aids Sullinger's load and takes as much pressure off Craft and the rest of the Buckeyes as possible. The senior has to score efficiently for this team to make a run. Simple as that.

No. 4 Wisconsin: Jordan Taylor, guard -- Again: No overthinking required, no explanation needed. May a resounding duh ring forth across the land.

No. 6 Cincinnati: Yancy Gates, forward -- With all due respect to Sean Kilpatrick, who has quietly become one of the stars of the tournament, the Bearcats would be a team full of guards with no interior punch (sorry) were it not for the indomitable Gates. Losing Kilpatrick would be a major blow, but lineup and skill-set facsimiles abound. Not so with Gates. He's crucial.

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