Judging by the national media out there, North Carolina doesn’t have a chance against Kansas Sunday without a healthy Kendal Marshall. ESPN’s Doug Gottlieb says “I mean, they’ll get out of St. Louis, But they’ll be going back to Chapel Hill.”
Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports wrote, “North Carolina survived (barely) and advanced (on its knees), but the end is near.” Stewart Mandel of CNNSI writes that The Tar Heels advanced to the Elite Eight with a 73-65 win, but suddenly their national title hopes couldn’t seem dimmer.
Kansas and Syracuse gut out close wins and they are praised as resilient and battle tested. North Carolina is being treated as if they shouldn’t bother playing anymore. If the Tar Heels ever wanted Bulletin Board material it’s everywhere.
I’ll be the first to admit that getting to the Final 4 and winning national title got a whole lot tougher without Kendall Marshall. I don’t think Marshall will play much if any Sunday against Kansas. That’s a fact, and Carolina did struggle for much of the 2nd half offensively, but I wouldn’t be so fast to write them off. There are some positives the Heels can take into the game with Sunday.
1) Stilman White – 6 Assists 0 Turnovers
All White needs to do is manage the game, he doesn’t have to win. He managed the game and the Tar Heels won. That’s what matters the win not style points. I wasn’t sure if White would be the better option over Justin Watts, but I think it’s safe to say White was. His defense was pretty good too. No, he’s not the quickest or most physical player, but he did what the Heels needed.
2) The Tar Heels won in spite of Harrison Barnes going 3-16 from the field.
Frankly that is the worst I’ve ever seen Barnes play. He forced shots, missed open jumpers, and he turned it over. Maybe he felt too much pressure in Marshall’s absence to carry the load, but the Heels going into the Kansas game as the underdog and that should free him up to play more relaxed.
3) The pressure is on all Kansas
It’s not always easy to play as the favorite. Kansas has not played well in this tournament. They are 12-60 20% from 3 point range in their first 3 NCAA games and have yet to score more than 65 points. Ohio hit 12 3-pointers last night. Their star Tyshawn Taylor struggled with his own game Friday night against NC State going 2-14 from the field, and he’s only 6 for his last 25. The Jayhawks are basically playing a home game and they will be favored. They go into the game with all the pressure.
4) Tyler Zeller
He had 22 points and 20 rebounds against Ohio. Last I looked the ACC”s player of the year is still healthy and Jayhawks are a decent but not great rebounding team ranking 54th in the country, while the Heels are 1st.
5) The emergence of Reggie Bullock
I didn’t think the Heels could beat any team in the Sweet 16 without Harrison Barnes playing well, but they did because Reggie Bullock came up huge against Ohio, knocking down big 3′s and being an additional scoring option the Tar Heels sorely needed. Bullock should enter the Kansas game playing with supreme confidence.
I don’t know if the Heels can go all the way without Marshall. This is probably the best Elite 8 field in recent memory, but you know the story one game at a time. I would make the Jayhawks the favorite Sunday, but only slightly, because of some of the points I’ve listed. The ultimate key will be Barnes and Taylor.
If Kendall Marshall is playing the Heels win by 10-12 points, but he’s probably not. Kansas is very well coached by Bill Self but this is not a vintage up and down Jayhawk team. They play more in the half-court which should benefit the Heels. Normally the Heels want a transition game, but Stilman White just isn’t that kind of PG. With the talent level more equal the key will be pretty simple, Harrison Barnes vs Tyshawn Taylor. Both stars had very rough Sweet 16 games.
The one that plays better will put their team in the Final 4.
What does the ACC’s Digital Network have to say about the game?