No. 1 North Carolina (32-5) vs. No. 2 Kansas (30-6), 5:05 PM, CBS (St. Louis, MO)
Carolina had one of its ugliest offensive outings of the season in their Sweet 16 win over Ohio on Friday, and it seemed clear that they missed their point guard Kendall Marshall (broken wrist). According to the Fayetteville Observer, Marshall said yesterday that he is in pain whenever he tries to catch or pass with his right hand, and that makes his status seem doubtful for Sunday.
It seemed like the Tar Heels needed Marshall more than ever when things got difficult in the second half and they needed to rally. But they may not have him long (if at all), so Carolina is going to have to get used to it and play with more of a sense of urgency offensively.
Key to the game: The players outside the paint. With the battle down low sure to be a great one on both ends, both teams will need their frontcourts and their benches to step up. Against NC State, Thomas Robinson and Jeff Withey combined to shoot 10-of-24 and score 26 points while their six teammates had 34 points on 14-of-40 shooting. Carolina’s John Henson and Tyler Zeller combined for 34 points on 14-of-26 shooting against Ohio while their six teammates had 39 points on 12-of-39 shooting. Both Kansas and Carolina each had a guard step up: UNC’s Reggie Bullock had 17 and Elijah Johnson had 11 for Kansas. But everyone else on both teams did not play well. The battle in the paint might cancel out an advantage for either team, so someone’s guards are going to have to step up.
Opponent to watch: Thomas Robinson, Kansas. The National Player of the Year candidate is going to get his, as NC State found out. But he’s been limited in two straight games now, and it’s no coincidence Kansas has a combined margin of victory of six points over two double-digit seeds. Robinson has shot just 9-of-29 from the floor (31%) in the last two games and averaged 14.5 points (but 14 rebounds). More important than Robinson’s actual numbers: Kansas seems lost offensively when he’s not playing well. So If Robinson returns to his player of the year form against North Carolina, whether it be through UNC foul trouble or the sheer force of Robinson’s will, that would likely spell the end for Carolina.
Prediction: Kansas 72, North Carolina 67
Random Mascot Facts: I covered the origin of the Jayhawk in my last post, but Kansas didn’t have a costumed mascot until the 1960′s (Big Jay). But there is a smaller mascot, Baby Jay. And that one came out – literally – in 1971 during the Homecoming football game against Kansas State. Kansas rolled out a giant blue egg and at halftime, Baby Jay was “hatched” on the field. Amy Hurst, the original Baby Jay, made the costume herself (it cost $53 and weighed 30 pounds).
Last week: 5-4
Season: (148-54) (16-7 Postseason)