Daily Word: Can North Carolina rise up?
Every weekday, Andy Katz leads a panel of our college hoops experts in a discussion of the biggest issues, trends and themes happening in and around college basketball.
1. North Carolina's history would suggest it's due for a big win. What do the Heels need to do to upset Syracuse?
Andy Katz: I'm done trying to figure out North Carolina. The Tar Heels have the big men, the length, a few shooters and the point guard to beat Syracuse. But it's a big if against one of the top four teams in the country. UNC's chance lies in whether or not Marcus Paige can defend Tyler Ennis and score inside the zone.
Dana O'Neil: Against Miami's zone defense, North Carolina did what a lot of teams do when faced with a zone -- the Tar Heels kept tossing up 3s, even when they failed go to in. That just doesn't work. If UNC is going to win -- and I'm not buying that this team is "due" anything save a group therapy session -- the Tar Heels have to be able to drive and penetrate against the Orange.
C.L. Brown: Carolina is going to struggle in any game that Marcus Paige is off and he has been a combined 5-of-27 in losses to Wake Forest and Miami. If Paige struggles for a third straight game, the Tar Heels have no chance of pulling off the upset. Centers Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson also are going to have to make shots from the high post to loosen up that zone.
2. Both Iowa and Ohio State suffered tough, early Big Ten losses. Which team needs Sunday's game more?
Katz: Iowa. The Hawkeyes have had so many close calls but haven't closed the deal. This would qualify for Iowa. But the Hawkeyes have to finish to knock off a team that won't quit in OSU.
O'Neil: Iowa. There are a bunch of near misses on the Hawkeyes' résumé but no big wins. For a team that has turned the corner but is still in need of respect, a win against Ohio State would go miles toward achieving that aim.
Brown: The Hawkeyes because they have to exorcise their road demons at some point, right? Iowa lost by three in Ames to rival Iowa State and had a chance to upset Wisconsin in Madison but fell 75-71. A win in Columbus would give them a big lift going forward.
3. Was Thursday's win over Louisville the biggest of Josh Pastner's career at Memphis?
Katz: Hard to put that on him. I would say beating Oklahoma State in Orlando after the embarrassing loss in Stillwater was bigger. But this win puts Memphis back in play for the league after getting dismantled by Cincinnati. Had the Tigers lost in Orlando, Pastner may have been overly stressed and his team too tight.
O'Neil: It could very well be, simply because of the circumstances. After the stinging home loss to Cincinnati, the critics were coming back for Pastner. Beating old nemesis Louisville at Louisville, one-upping Rick Pitino and getting a critical conference victory ought to silence the folks who think Pastner can't coach. Now, however, Memphis is in desperate need of consistency.
Brown: Hard to say biggest, because if the Tigers lose to Temple and UConn the win over the Cardinals means nothing. It was, as Dana pointed out, a nice reprieve for Pastner and a confidence booster for the team, especially getting it done on the road in one of the nation's most underrated rivalries.
Weekend Games To Watch
North Carolina's wins over Michigan State and Kentucky seem like ancient history at this point. The Heels are still in search of their first ACC win. They are shooting just 31.5 percent from 3-point range, which doesn't bode well against the Orange's zone.
Arkansas had rattled off seven wins before its loss to Texas A&M. The Razorbacks mustered just 53 points in defeat and will have to up their game against a finally healthy Florida team that has won its past four games by an average of 21 points.
The battle for the state of Kansas has traditionally been one-sided, and while Kansas should win at home, Kansas State is not a pushover. The Wildcats arrived on the national scene when they upset Oklahoma State last weekend.
Iowa coach Fran McCaffery returns to the sideline after serving a one-game suspension for his ejection in the loss to Wisconsin. Expect the Buckeyes to be hungry after falling to Michigan State in overtime earlier this week.
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