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Final Four Preview: Ohio State vs. Kansas

March 29, 2012 in Final Four, Preview

Who/When: No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 2 Kansas, Saturday, 8:49 p.m. (CBS)

Where: Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans

Announcers: Jim Nantz and Clark Kellogg

How They Got Here: Ohio State defeated No. 15 Loyola (Md.), 78-59, No. 7 Gonzaga, 73-66, No. 6 Cincinnati, 81-66, and No. 1 Syracuse, 77-70; Kansas defeated No. 15 Detroit, 65-50, No. 10 Purdue, 63-60, No. 11 N.C. State, 60-57, and No. 1 North Carolina, 80-67.

Coaches: Thad Matta (323–95 overall, 221–64 in eight seasons at OSU); Bill Self (475–157 overall, 268–52 in nine seasons at Kansas)

Ohio State in the Final Four:
Overall: 11th appearance (including 1999, when it was vacated)
Last Appearance: 2007, lost to Florida, 84-75, in national title game
Last Championship: 1960, defeated California, 75-55
Number of Titles: 1 (1960)

Kansas in the Final Four:
Overall: 14th appearance
Last Appearance: 2008, defeated Memphis, 75-68, to win national championship
Last Title: 2008, defeated Memphis, 75-68
Number of Titles: 3 (1952, 1988, 2008)

Ohio State’s View: Everything revolves around Jared Sullinger, who missed the Buckeyes' 78-67 loss at Kansas on Dec. 10. In the East Regional Final against Syracuse, Sullinger only played six minutes in the first half because of foul trouble but played the entire second half, finishing with 19 points and seven rebounds. Syracuse didn't have an answer for Sullinger and that ultimately led to their demise. The other big factor in that game, and one that has aided the Buckeyes through the tournament, is defense. They allowed just 59.7 points per game this season, and that tenacity in defending their basketball stretches throughout the entire roster. Guard Aaron Craft only had one steal against Syracuse, but made life miserable for Scoop Jardine all game, which took Syracuse out of its entire offensive rhythm. The other starters — Lenzelle Smith, Jr., William Buford, and Deshaun Thomas — are really good on both ends of the floor. But the team operates much better when Sullinger is playing — and he needs to play more than 26 minutes against Kansas if they're going to return to the national title game.

Kansas’ View: The Jayhawks can play their share of defense too, and they've also got a big man — Thomas Robinson — who makes everything better. Robinson had 18 points and nine rebounds against North Carolina in the regional final, while guard Tyshawn Taylor had 22 points, six rebounds and five assists. But the main reason they defeated the Tar Heels was defense, specifically Self's triangle-and-two scheme that held UNC to seven of 31 shooting after halftime and no baskets over the last 5:46 of regulation. That's the key for the Jayhawks against the Buckeyes too. Ohio State does not boast the same offensive gifts as the Tar Heels, but their defense is much better than North Carolina's system.

Quotable: "Past teams, we just had so many weapons that could score from so many different spots. If we weren't all the way in tune defensively, we could cover that up by making some shots. And we knew at the beginning of the year that it wouldn't be the same." – Tyshawn Taylor

What I Expect: This game could get ugly quickly, but not in the traditional sense of the phrase. It'll be a defensive struggle and a big-time battle between Sullinger and Robinson in the paint. Craft could frustrate Taylor quickly, which will give a pretty big advantage to the Buckeyes. OSU's balance and depth, as well as Sullinger's amazing gifts, will prevail — possibly in overtime.

Prediction: OSU advances to face Kentucky in the national championship game.

Midwest Regional Final Preview

March 25, 2012 in Preview

Who/When: No. 1 North Carolina Tar Heels vs. No. 2 Kansas Jayhawks, 5:05 p.m. (CBS)

Where: Edward Jones Dome, St. Louis

Announcers: Marv Albert and Steve Kerr

How They Got Here: UNC defeated No. 16 Vermont, 77-58, No. 8 Creighton, 87-73, and No. 13 Ohio 73-65 (OT); Kansas defeated No. 15 Detroit, 65-50, No. 10 Purdue, 63-60, and No. 11 N.C. State, 60-57.

Coaches: Bill Self (Kansas) and Roy Williams (UNC)

History: UNC is 9-5 in the Elite Eight since 1985 and has reached 18 Final Fours overall (1946, 1957, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1972, 1977, 1981, 1982, 1991, 1993, 1995, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2005, 2008, 2009); Kansas is 7-4 in the Elite Eight since 1985 and has reached 13 Final Fours overall (1940, 1952, 1953, 1957, 1971, 1974, 1986, 1988, 1991, 1993, 2002, 2003, 2008).

Why North Carolina Will Win: The Tar Heels, probably for the first time this tournament, will be meeting a team that can match its talent. Without Kendall Marshall on Friday, UNC went to overtime with a game Ohio Bobcats squad, but ultimately hit shots when it mattered to gut out a victory. If Marshall can play today, they'll have the player that can keep them in an offensive flow and make everything more efficient. Without Marshall, they looked out-of-sorts and inconsistent. With Marshall, even not at 100 percent, they can make things move more smoothly. With that being said, they also will face more defensive resistance and size from the Jayhawks than they did from the Bobcats. The plan for the Tar Heels, though, remains the same: play solid defense and score, score, score. The other fact they have to overcome is emotion: Roy Williams hates facing Kansas, where he coached for 15 seasons and won 418 games (but no titles). With UNC, he's won 257 games in nine seasons, with one NCAA title (in 2009), but he'll always have a huge place in his heart for the Jayhawks — whom he has faced only once before in the NCAA tournament: the 2008 Final Four (an 84-66 win by Kansas).

Why Kansas Will Win: Without Marshall, the Jayhawks can take advantage of a team that isn't as good as it was during the season. That being said, the Jayhawks must shoot better than the 37.5 percent they shot against N.C. State on Friday night. On average, Kansas doesn't score as well as UNC (74 points per game compared to the Heels' 81.7), but they defend much better (61.4 points allowed compared to 66.7). Those 5.3 points might not seem like much, but it's the difference between a defense ranked 37th in the country and one ranked 145th. Kansas needs to play one of its best games of the year to beat UNC. The gap isn't huge, and it's one they can overcome, but the Jayhawks can't beat itself in a game of this magnitude. Guard play is key, especially with Marshall not as his best. If they can slow down the offense Carolina still has, and generate some of their own, then they'll have a great shot to get back to the Final Four.

What I Expect: Kansas and UNC will go toe-to-toe, but in the end, the Heels have too much talent, and too much balance — even with Marshall hobbled — to lose this game. Williams remembers that loss to Kansas and doesn't want to repeat it. In overtime on Friday, the Heels looked much better, led by Harrison Barnes and Tyler Zeller. Those guys should be huge again today and give their coach a huge victory.

Prediction: UNC edges the Jayhawks to return to New Orleans, site of its last title.

Midwest Region Sweet 16 Preview

March 22, 2012 in Preview

Who/When: No. 1 North Carolina Tar Heels vs. No. 13 Ohio Bobcats, 7:47 p.m. (TBS); No. 2 Kansas Jayhawks No. 11 N.C. State Wolfpack, 10:17 p.m. (TBS)

Where: Edward Jones Dome, St. Louis

Announcers: Marv Albert and Steve Kerr

How They Got Here: UNC defeated Vermont, 77-58, and Creighton, 87-73; Ohio defeated Michigan, 65-60, and University of South Florida, 62-56; Kansas defeated Detroit, 65-50, and Purdue, 63-60; N.C. State defeated San Deigo State, 79-65, and Georgetown, 66-63.

Coaches: Bill Self (Kansas), Mark Gottfried (N.C. State), Roy Williams (UNC), John Groce (Ohio U.)

Team Leaders:

Category UNC Ohio N.C. State Kansas
Points Harrison Barnes (17.3) D.J. Cooper (14.9) C.J. Leslie (14.6) Thomas Robinson (17.7)
Rebounds John Henson (10.1) Ivo Baltic (5.0) Richard Howell (9.1) Thomas Robinson (11.8)
Assists Kendall Marshall (9.8) D.J. Cooper (5.7) Lorenzo Brown (6.4) Tyshawn Taylor (4.7)

What To Expect: The big factor for UNC is the status of Kendall Marshall’s fractured right wrist. If he can play against Ohio, which as of this second doesn’t look likely, then the team might be able to keep up their dominance. Quite frankly, the team shouldn’t have a problem beating Ohio but Marshall’s availability for the regional final is another matter. Heading into the tournament, the Tar Heels were viewed as one of the biggest threats to Kentucky’s so-called dominance, and they nearly beat the Wildcats during an epic game on Dec. 3 in Lexington. The Heels ranked second in the nation, averaging 82 points per game, but allowed 66.8 points per game – an unimpressive 144th. (Ohio averaged 70.3 points per game, but did better on the defensive end by allowing 62.2 PPG.)

The other game is a far different story. Many have argued that N.C. State is under-seeded and they certainly impressed by beating two high-seeded teams in their first two games. Their stats are similar to that of the Tar Heels: pretty good offense (73.3 points per game) and pedestrian defense (67.8 PPG). Kansas, meanwhile, averages slightly more points than the Wolfpack (74.4), but their defense is far superior (61.5). Kansas is balanced and playing really well right now, but they sometimes can shoot themselves in the foot. For example, in the Big 12 title game against Baylor, the Jayhawks shot 42.6 percent from the field, but just 15.4 percent (2-13) from three-point range. Kansas shot 48.5 percent from the field on the season. Kansas teams typically lose in the tournament because they get frustrated and go out of their comfort zone. (You can say that about any team, really.) N.C. State needs to play some of their best defense of the season in order to advance.

Home Court Advantage: Kansas gets the nod on this one, despite being the No. 2 seed. Their campus is about 300 miles from St. Louis and Athens, Ohio, where the Bobcats are based, is about 500. The two teams from North Carolina will be traveling about 800 miles. That being said, the Tar Heels usually travel well, so a potential regional final between Kansas and UNC will have plenty of blue – albeit in two very different shades.

Predictions: It appears North Carolina and Kansas will meet in the regional final. Both teams are too good and should outclass their opponents. Of the lower seeds, N.C. State has the better chance to win, unless UNC is a total mess if Marshall can’t play. But, when it’s all said and done, it should be the Tar Heels and the Jayhawks playing for the right to advance to the Final Four.

An Upsetting First Weekend — For Some

March 19, 2012 in Preview, Recaps

In one game Friday night, Duke's loss to Lehigh, two things occurred that had never happened before: Duke lost an NCAA Tournament game in Greensboro, N.C., and a No. 2 seed lost twice in the first round of the tournament. (Missouri had already lost to Norfolk State.) But those weren't he only top-four seeds to not advance to the Sweet 16: Michigan, the fourth seed in the Midwest Region, lost to Ohio University and Georgetown, the No. 3 seed in that very same Midwest Region, lost to N.C. State on Sunday. Florida State also lost to Cincinnati, although that wasn't as big of an upset. Those games (and others) led to three teams seeded 10 or higher making it to the Sweet 16: Ohio, N.C. State and Xavier.

Otherwise, believe it or not, the seedings pretty much held. And, despite so many calls for their collapse, Syracuse's nine-point victory over UNC-Asheville (in front of an anti-Orange crowd in Pittsburgh) was not the narrowest margin of victory by a No. 1 seed all weekend. That dubious distinction belongs to Michigan State, who beat the St. Louis University Billikens by just four.

So here are your Sweet 16 match-ups:

Thursday/Saturday

East: No. 1 Syracuse Orange vs. No. 4 Wisconsin Badgers, 7:15 p.m. (CBS); No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes vs. No. 6 Cincinnati Bearcats, 9:45 p.m. (CBS)

This region boils down to two Big Ten vs. Big East match-ups. Syracuse-Wisconsin will be entertaining on numerous levels. One, without Fab Melo, it's entirely possible Syracuse is actually rebounding better than they did with him during the regular season and, two, Rakeem Christmas has played pretty well as a freshman starting in the NCAA Tournament. The Badgers are one of the best defensive teams in the country, so this will be a battle of Wisconsin's man-to-man defense vs. Syracuse's vaunted 2-3 zone. The OSU-Cincy game will be more of the same. Both teams have good big men and both can score in spurts. Cincy was one of the teams to beat Syracuse this season, so they've got the pedigree to win big games.

Midwest: No. 1 North Carolina Tar Heels vs. No. 13 Ohio Bobcats, 7:47 p.m. (TBS) ; No. 2 Kansas Jayhawks No. 11 N.C. State Wolfpack, 10:17 p.m. (TBS)

Both games involve top seeds against teams who upset top seeds. North Carolina should be able to stop Ohio's roll, while Kansas — who escaped their round-of-32 game against Purdue — might have more troubles with the Wolfpack. Like the East, this could yield a interconference regional final and, in this case, one that comes out of the Tar Heel State.

Friday/Sunday

South (Atlanta): No. 1 Kentucky Wildcats vs. No. 4 Indiana Hoosiers, 9:45 p.m. (CBS); No. 3 Baylor Bears vs. No. 10 Xavier Musketeers, 7:15 p.m. (CBS)

Kentucky gets a crack at the only non-conference team to beat them this season. And Indiana just beat a VCU team that still had some magic leftover from last season's run to the Final Four. If Kentucky plays the way it did this past weekend, things could get out of hand quickly, but the Hoosiers are no pushover, and money says that this one stays close throughout. Xavier and Baylor might be another high-scoring affair, but Butler clearly has the better pedigree here.

West (Phoenix): No. 1 Michigan State Spartans vs. No. 4 Louisville Cardinals, 7:47 p.m. (TBS); No. 7 Florida Gators vs. No. 3 Marquette Golden Eagles, 10:17 p.m. (TBS)

This is a doozy of a region. The Michigan State-Louisville game is going to be a slow, methodical defensive battle with lots of physicality and plenty of rebounding. The Spartans have the edge because Louisville has no match for Draymond Green. In fact, the Cardinals' center, Gorgui Dieng, is pretty good on defense but he's no threat on offense. During the Syracuse-Louisville game in Kentucky earlier this year, the Orange purposely stopped guarding Dieng, who continued to miss wide-open shots. Don't think Tom Izzo won't look at that game tape. The Gators-Golden Eagles game will be an up-and-down score-fest. (Those who watched the Marquette-Murray State game will understand.)

Look for a more in-depth preview of each game later this week.

Footnote: Of the three Final Four teams from 2011, only Kentucky advanced to the Sweet 16 in this year's tournament. UConn. lost in the first round, VCU in the second and Butler plays Penn tonight in the College Basketball Invitational, which pretty much amounts to the Toilet Bowl of postseason hoops.

Midwest Region Preview

March 14, 2012 in Preview

Top Four Seeds: UNC, Kansas, Georgetown, Michigan
Sleepers: Temple, San Diego State, N.C. State
Best players: Tyler Zeller (UNC), Zack Novak (Michigan), Thomas Robinson (Kansas), Doug McDermott (Creighton)
Best coaches: Roy Williams (UNC), Steve Fisher (San Diego State), John Thompson III (Georgetown)
Best nickname: University of Vermont Catamounts

Overview: North Carolina sure picked a good time to get their act together. While scoring has never been a problem for them, the rest of their game needed some work. And that's where they improved over the course of the season. Kansas has some holes, and while they're strong enough to beat most, it won't be without some headaches. Georgetown (what is a hoya, anyway?) is very streaky and might not make it past the Sweet 16. Michigan had a surprisingly good season and, while this might not be their year, they might be even better next season.

Predicted Final Four Representative: North Carolina.

Their outstanding history and stellar balance gives you the feeling that they might be the team best equipped to win the title not named Kentucky.

Carolina Basketball In The ACC

February 24, 2011 in Uncategorized

By Guest Blogger Brad Pate:

Winning in the ACC isn’t the easy.  For anybody.  Carolina had high hopes coming into this basketball season, with a pre-season ranking of 9, and Harrison Barnes was predicted to be an All-American. He is the only freshman in history to do this.  Those are some lofty expectations for a Carolina team who barely made 20 wins and only had 5 in the ACC last year.

This season began and Carolina was in Puerto Rico. Carolina had a pretty disappointing showing losing 2 out of 3 games.  Their two loses came at the hands of Vanderbilt and Minnesota.  Those are two good teams, but teams that Carolina should have beaten.  Carolina ended up losing two more in the non-conference schedule.

Carolina entered ACC play on a solid winning streak.  The first loss in conference was the most embarrassing loss I have witnessed in awhile.  It was tough to watch for any die-hard fan, but every team has their hard times.  After that loss, Roy Williams got the team ready and focused.

Carolina then went on a winning streak and was playing some of their best basketball and entered the top 25.  It was great to watch.  Carolina finally looked liked the top-10 team they were predicted to be.  Then came a game at Duke.  Leading by 14 at halftime, I thought Carolina was going to pull this one out.  But I forgot that I was watching college basketball and that anything can happen.  Duke ended up coming back and winning.  It was very heart breaking and just horrible to watch.

But since that loss, Carolina has been winning game after game. Their last win was against Boston College.  It was disappointing and frustrating at the same time.  Carolina couldn’t score and kept turning the ball over. They won 48-46, an ugly score for an ugly game.

In their next game against arch-rival NC State tonight, I’m hoping that Carolina should win if it’s like the previous meeting, it should be by 20. Carolina should do no worse than 12-4 in the ACC and be second place going into the tournament. I’m looking forward to the rest of the season and to the NCAA tournament.

Do you think Carolina can win convincingly tonight?