North Carolina Tar Heels: Kansas Jayhawks

If you’ve noticed a sudden rush of recruiting information for 2016 prospects in the last few days, it's no coincidence.

Sunday was the first day that college coaches were permitted to contact prospects in the rising junior class, and for some prospects that literally meant the phone rang when the clock struck midnight.

Often times, those conversations are followed by some sort of offer. Here’s a look at some of the latest news for the Class of 2016:

In high school basketball, the best players usually concentrate on their offense because that’s how their teams win games. But there are several prospects who have the potential to be elite defenders. Let’s examine the five best defenders among the incoming freshmen and one from the Class of 2015.

1. Justise Winslow, Duke
Winslow has a college-ready body and mindset that will help him influence the game with his defensive prowess. His defensive versatility might be the best among the entire freshman class as the 6-foot-6 forward can defend point guards through power forwards. The athletic Winslow can be a factor in full-court pressure or trapping situations as well as in a straight-up man-to-man denial defense locking up, the opposing team's best offensive threat. What makes him a special defender is that he is always thinking about where he should be next on the floor. Winslow will be extremely important for Duke next season.


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Biancardi’s Breakdown: Best for '14 

December, 30, 2013
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Basketball is played right through the new year, so as we look back and plan ahead let’s take a look halfway through this season at which 2014 prospects have performed best in 14 categories.

1. Best in the low post: Jahlil Okafor (Chicago/Whitney Young), Duke signee
If a team needs to score a basket in the lower half of the painted area, Okafor is the one to pass it to. He has secure hands to catch almost any pass and a soft touch with superb footwork. He also has a wide mobile body to seal his man and the patience to throw the ball back out and re-post his 7-foot-3 wing span.


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1. The Presidential Medal of Freedom award for former North Carolina coach Dean Smith was an honor well deserved. The recognition by President Barack Obama, like those before him since President John F. Kennedy created the award, is meant to be for individuals who have set themselves apart in their chosen field, but not always for simply the craft that made them so successful. Smith did so much more than simply coach and win basketball games. He wasn't afraid to be active in the world in which he coached in the 1960s. He set a high example for himself and the program. North Carolina coach Roy Williams said in a statement Thursday, "But more than basketball, it was his social conscience that has left even greater marks on our society and will be paying dividends for generations.'' Smith has been battling memory loss over the past few seasons. No one knows if he'll be able to attend the ceremony at the White House when the date is announced. But let's hope he can make an appearance. His family deserves to see him praised publicly. That's what makes the timing right, so those who love him can celebrate his life's accomplishments with him.

2. The Sun Belt played its conference tournament title game on the Monday of Championship Week last season. But the Sun Belt wanted to have more exposure and a significant platform. The league announced it will host its title game on Selection Sunday on ESPN2. This is great news for exposure for the league. But it could cause another headache for the selection committee and possibly for the winner. The committee can't control when conferences schedule title games but if it were up to them there wouldn't be title games on Sunday. The committee has to deal with too many scenarios on Selection Sunday with winners and losers possibly affecting seeding and bracketing. The Sun Belt has gained exposure, but we'll have to wait and see if it sacrificed its seed by forcing the committee to hold a spot for the winner or a possible at-large team.

3. The Big 12 made the right call in having Kansas and Oklahoma State play on March 1 -- in Stillwater -- in what should be one of the best atmospheres and showdowns next season. KU and OSU should dominate the landscape on that day. This would give the focus to the Big 12 with Andrew Wiggins and Marcus Smart headlining the game. Like it or not, Duke-North Carolina the ensuing weekend usually draws a lot of attention. If KU-OSU were opposite that game there's a good chance it would still be the game of the day based on preseason projections. But this way there is no debate with Kansas and Oklahoma State on a separate weekend.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Standout freshman and future NBA lottery pick Ben McLemore was so mediocre on Sunday that he could hardly get off the Kansas Jayhawks' bench in the second half.

It didn't matter.

With McLemore struggling, Kansas used its other main weapon -- experience -- to advance to the Sweet 16 with a 70-58 victory over the North Carolina Tar Heels. The Jayhawks got a combined 53 points from seniors Travis Releford (22), Jeff Withey (16), Kevin Young (10) and Elijah Johnson (5) in a come-from-behind win before 18,000-plus fans at the Sprint Center.

McLemore entered the game averaging a team-high 16.2 points, but for the second straight game, he seemed spooked by the NCAA tournament's big stage. McLemore scored just two points (both on free throws) in 18 first-half minutes before going scoreless after intermission. McLemore played just six minutes in the second half. He went 0-of-9 from the field overall.

Instead coach Bill Self turned to the same group of seniors that played pivotal roles in last season's march to the NCAA title game, where the Jayhawks lost to Kentucky. The foursome contributed in a number of ways that didn't show up on the scoreboard. Withey had 16 rebounds and five blocks. Releford collected eight boards and three steals. Johnson dished out four assists (and committed just two turnovers) while Young snared nine rebounds.

The other key factor for the Jayhawks was the player who replaced McLemore. Naadir Tharpe, a sophomore backup guard, scored 11 points off the bench and made a trio of clutch 3-pointers during a key second-half run that put the game out of reach for UNC.

The Tar Heels actually jumped out to a 30-21 lead thanks to a horrendous shooting effort from the Jayhawks, who made just 28 percent of their field goals in the opening 20 minutes while committing 12 turnovers. Kansas, though, opened the second half with a 33-10 run and never looked back. Self's squad outscored No. 8-seeded North Carolina 49-28 in the second half.

Tar Heels coach Roy Williams fell to 0-3 against his former schools, with each of the losses coming in the NCAA tournament. KU beat UNC in last year's Elite Eight. Kansas is now 31-5. North Carolina ends its season with a 25-11 record. P.J. Hairston scored 15 points for the Tar Heels, who shot 30 percent overall.

Turning point: A 3-pointer by Johnson forced a 35-35 tie at the 15:26 mark of the second half. Perry Ellis followed with a tip-in and then Releford converted a traditional three-point play that gave KU a 40-35 cushion. At that point Kansas had the momentum and never lost it again.

Key player: Releford. His 22-point effort came on 9-of-13 shooting. He also contributed eight rebounds and three steals. More importantly, he helped set the tone of toughness for the Jayhawks when they were struggling in the first half.

Key stat: Kansas, which made just one shot outside of the paint in Friday's win over Western Kentucky, didn't connect on a jump shot until Releford swished a 3-pointer two minutes into the second half.

Next: Kansas advances to the Sweet 16 for the third straight year. The Jayhawks play No. 4 seed Michigan Friday in Arlington, Texas.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- At their shoot-around on Thursday and again during Friday’s win over Villanova, the North Carolina Tar Heels received rousing ovations from an unlikely group of supporters.

Kansas fans.

For nearly a decade almost anyone who called themselves a Jayhawk held resentment toward former coach Roy Williams for leaving KU in 2003 and returning to North Carolina, his alma mater. But if this week is any indication, Kansas fans have moved on and come to appreciate Williams for what he accomplished during his 15 seasons in Lawrence.

“Time heals all wounds,” Williams said Saturday. “The people have been really nice. There have been people driving by on the streets when we’re out walking in the morning that have been yelling and saying nice things.

“I’ve only had one person yell something that wasn’t quite as nice, but that’s part of it.”

[+] EnlargeRoy Williams
Denny Medley/USA TODAY SportsUNC coach Roy Williams hasn't had any success against Kansas, the school he once led. Will that change on Sunday?
Williams’ Tar Heels -- the No. 8 seed in the South Region -- will take on top-seeded Kansas at the Sprint Center on Sunday for a chance to go to the Sweet 16. The Tar Heels are 0-2 against the Jayhawks since Williams became their coach. KU beat UNC in the national semifinals in 2008 and again in the Elite Eight last season.

A lot of the attention leading into each of those games centered on the ill will that some Kansas fans held toward Williams for leaving in 2003, just two years after vowing he’d retire at Kansas. “Benedict Roy” shirts were a hot seller in Lawrence. One barbershop owner went so far as to hang Williams’ picture above his toilet.

This season, though, most of the buzz during Saturday’s news conference centered around the actual game. That had to have been refreshing to both Williams and KU coach Bill Self, who coached for three seasons at Illinois before taking over for Williams.

“Nobody can ever take away that he did a fabulous job and ran a first-class program [at Kansas],” Self said. “Anybody that doesn’t feel that way isn’t real, because that’s the reality of it.

“Since we’ve had a chance to play a couple of times in the tournament, I think there were some story lines [before] that probably aren’t as good of a story line now.”

Self has certainly made it easy for KU fans to move on. By beating No. 16 seed Western Kentucky Friday, Self became the first coach in history to guide his team to four consecutive 30-win seasons. (It should be noted that John Calipari accomplished the feat from 2006-09, but the Tigers’ wins from the 2007-08 season were vacated.)

Kansas has also won nine straight Big 12 titles under Self and one national championship. Self is 299-58 (.838) during his tenure at KU, while Williams is 282-78 with six ACC championships and two NCAA titles at North Carolina.

As much as he hopes to win Saturday’s game, Williams has made it clear that he doesn’t enjoy playing Kansas.

“It’s not immoral to love two schools,” Williams said. “Someone asked me the other day if I would ever consider coming and playing a home-and-home against Kansas. I said no. My athletic director would understand and the Pope will understand, because I will never walk out of that far tunnel. That will never happen.

“I said this before I left Kansas: 'The day I ever walk into Allen Fieldhouse and don’t get cold chills, I’ll know it’s time to stop.' I feel the same way about the Smith Center. If I walk out on game night and don’t have cold chills, I’ll quit."

Kansas City news and notes:

  • North Carolina’s switch to a smaller lineup earlier this season could make things difficult for KU center Jeff Withey, who will likely have to guard players such as James Michael McAdoo outside of the paint from time to time. Withey said the shortage of true centers in the Big 12 has forced him to become a better perimeter defender. “I’ve definitely gotten used to it,” Withey said. “I’ve had to learn to guard and move my feet.”
  • Kansas leading scorer Ben McLemore is averaging just seven points in his past three games -- more than nine points below his average of 16.2. He had just 11 points in 32 minutes against Western Kentucky on Friday, when he only attempted five shots. “He’s young,” Self said of McLemore, a redshirt freshman. “Obviously this is his first time on a big stage. He’s capable of doing it all. When he’s aggressive, we’re better. We’ve just got to get him to be more aggressive.”
  • Ole Miss guard Marshall Henderson celebrated Friday’s victory over Wisconsin by hanging out with some of his friends at a bar across the street from the arena. Photos of Henderson (who was holding a clear cup containing a red drink) ended up on Twitter, which prompted Rebels AD Ross Bjork to summon Henderson back to the team hotel. “It wasn’t like he was guzzling a beer,” Bjork said. Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy was asked if he approved of Henderson hanging out in bars in between NCAA tournament games. “He’s 22 years old,” Kennedy said of Henderson. “I didn’t give him an alcohol sobriety test. We didn’t make him recite his ABCs backward, but I know this. I know we had a pretty intense 10 o’clock meeting and he was involved in it, as they all were.”
  • LaSalle coach John Giannini said playing in the “First Four” has been beneficial to his team. The No. 13 seed Explorers upset No. 4-seeded Kansas State on Friday. “You’re certainly in a better rhythm,” Giannini said. “If you look at yesterday’s game, it perfectly demonstrated the advantages and disadvantages. One team was really in a rhythm in the first half. There is an advantage to having played, working out some nerves and being comfortable on the court.”
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.

Kansas has finest finishing touch

March, 25, 2012
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In a highly anticipated matchup between two of the three winningest programs in college basketball, the Kansas Jayhawks beat the North Carolina Tar Heels 80-67 to advance to their 14th Final Four and first since 2008.

This was the fifth all-time meeting between Kansas and North Carolina in the NCAA tournament (Kansas now leads 3-2) and the first since the Jayhawks beat the Tar Heels in the 2008 Final Four. The winner of the previous four showdowns has gone on to win the national title.

Kansas is now 4-0 versus No. 1 seeds in the regional finals, having also beaten Arkansas in 1991, Indiana in 1993 and Arizona in 2003. That matches Duke for the most such wins by any school, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Why Kansas won
The Jayhawks ended the game on 12-0 run, sparked by a 3-pointer from Elijah Johnson with 3:07 left that gave Kansas a 71-67 lead it would not relinquish. Kansas forced North Carolina to miss all six of its field goal attempts in the final three minutes, including four shots from beyond the arc.

Kansas proved it could run with the Tar Heels, outscoring North Carolina 18-8 in transition during the game. The Jayhawks were the first team to outscore the Tar Heels in transition over the last three NCAA tournaments.

Tyshawn Taylor shined for the Jayhawks, leading all scorers with 22 points and added five assists and five steals.

He is first player to reach each of those totals in an NCAA tournament game since Georgetown’s Allen Iverson had 32 points, five steals and five assists in 1996.

Why North Carolina lost
Leading by 5 with less than 9 minutes to go, Kansas switched from man-to-man to a triangle-and-two hybrid zone defense. The Tar Heels' offense went cold against the zone, making just two shots on their final 12 half-court possessions.

Overall, North Carolina struggled with its perimeter shooting against the Jayhawks.

The Tar Heels made just 2 of 17 shots (12 percent) from beyond the arc, their second-worst 3-point shooting effort in an NCAA tournament game in school history.

North Carolina also missed Kendall Marshall’s ability to lead the Tar Heels’ fastbreak offense.

Without Marshall at the helm, the Tar Heels did not run as much in the tournament, averaging nearly eight fewer transition plays and 11 fewer points per game in its last two contests compared to its first two.

What’s next
Kansas advances to the Final Four in New Orleans to face the Ohio State Buckeyes in a national semifinal game. This will be just the second meeting of 2-seeds in the NCAA tournament. The only other was the 1995 semifinal, when Arkansas beat North Carolina, 75-68.

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.

Kansas moves past Roy Williams

March, 25, 2012
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ST. LOUIS -- Four years ago, before he faced his former team in the 2008 Final Four, North Carolina coach Roy Williams received word that a barbershop in Kansas had removed his picture from its display wall and hung it in the bathroom.

Right above the toilet.

Thousands of fans -- many of them sporting "Benedict Roy" T-shirts -- flooded Massachusetts Street in Lawrence when the Jayhawks defeated the Tar Heels a few nights later. The victory came in the NCAA semifinals -- not the championship game.

Still, beating ol' Roy was more gratifying to some than the win over Memphis two days later. Williams said the game was the worst experience of his life.

"A lot of emotion," Williams said. "A lot of pain."

Four years later, Williams is again preparing to play the school he coached for 15 years, the school he led to four Final Fours while winning 80.5 percent of his games.

Only now, things are different.

This year, Roy and Kansas aren't the story.

The teams are.

Twenty-four hours before Sunday's tipoff between the Jayhawks and Tar Heels in the Elite Eight, the buzz was less about Williams and more about Kansas' recent shooting woes. A few reporters asked Williams the obligatory questions about his time at Kansas, but most posters on KU message boards and chat rooms seemed more curious about the status of injured UNC point guard Kendall Marshall and how his absence could affect the game.

Finally -- thankfully -- the Roy Williams hate seems to have subsided among Jayhawk Nation.

For the rest of the story, click here.

Video: UNC without Kendall Marshall

March, 25, 2012
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Rece Davis, Jay Bilas and Hubert Davis break down what North Carolina misses without point guard Kendall Marshall.

Midwest preview: UNC vs. Kansas

March, 25, 2012
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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.

Double-digit seeds look to upset Midwest

March, 21, 2012
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Our Sweet 16 preview continues with a look at the matchups in the Midwest Regional on Friday:

(13) Ohio vs. (1) North Carolina, 7:47 ET
According to North Carolina head coach Roy Williams, the Tar Heels are preparing to play Friday’s game without starting point guard Kendall Marshall.

Without Marshall as the primary ball handler, the Tar Heels could have difficulty getting past the Ohio Bobcats tomorrow. Ohio forces 17.2 turnovers per game, the fifth-highest mark in the nation and most among the remaining Sweet 16 teams.

Marshall has also shined as the team’s offensive catalyst during the tournament, creating 80 points in his two games from either his own scoring or assists. Against Creighton, Marshall was responsible for 45 of the team's 87 points (55 percent).

If Marshall is not able to play, North Carolina’s ability to finish in the paint and in transition will likely be hurt. Nearly 30 percent of his 201 assists since the start of ACC play have come in transition.

Also, two-thirds of Marshall's assists in that time frame have resulted in paint shots. Tyler Zeller has been the biggest benefactor during this stretch, with 43 percent of his field goals coming off passes from Marshall.

Ohio’s most indispensable player is guard D.J. Cooper, who will be on the court Friday, and the Bobcats are certainly happy about that. Cooper has scored or assisted on 71 of Ohio’s 127 points (56 percent), the highest percentage for any player remaining in the field.

(11) NC State vs (2) Kansas, 10:17 ET
One key battle to watch in this Sweet 16 matchup will be the ability of NC State’s big men to dominate Kansas' forward-center tandem of Thomas Robinson and Jeff Withey around the basket.

The Jayhawks have allowed just 22 points in the paint per game this season, which leads the Big 12 and is second among major conference schools. The Wolfpack are averaging 33 paint points per game this season, which ranks second in the ACC and 11th among the Power 6 teams.

However, NC State struggled to find its inside game against Georgetown in the third round. The Wolfpack shot less than 35 percent and scored just 20 points on attempts in the paint, including only six in the second half.

If Kansas is going to advance to the Elite Eight, the Jayhawks might want to improve their mid-range game. Kansas is shooting 27 percent outside the paint in the tournament, the worst among the remaining teams in the field.
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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