My friend Jason Osborne once again gives his predictions. In this post he covers the Midwest Region. His favorite team, the North Carolina Tar Heels, are still alive in this region.
Kendall Marshall and the Tar Heels
Without a doubt, the biggest news in the college basketball world going into the Sweet 16 round has been Kendall Marshall. The bulk of sports commentators, including myself, believe that Kentucky is the favorite to win the Tournament, but that if any team could challenge the Wildcats stout on-court presence, it would be the Tar Heels. Remember that North Carolina played Kentucky to within one point in Chapel Hill in their annual meeting way back in early December. That same team beat Michigan State in the first ever Carrier Classic, played on a Naval aircraft carrier right in San Diego Bay.
What is different now?
North Carolina had Dexter Strickland backing up Kendall Marshall at Point Guard. Mr. Strickland blew out his ACL during the close of the regular season, and is no longer available. That leaves Stillman White at Point Guard, and going into the weekend, he was averaging about 5 minutes a game. John Henson also injured his wrist, but came back for the Creighton game and looked healthy. That is the good news. The bad news is that during the post-game press conference, Roy Williams announced that Kendall Marshall had fractured his wrist during the game. However, he played through it during the game, and truth be told, no one truly knows Kendall Marshall’s status for the upcoming Sweet 16 matchup against Ohio.
If the March Madness betting sites offered the wager, I would bet that we will not see any Kendall Marshall against Ohio University. North Carolina’s problems thus become how to move the ball around safely. However, those problems are counter balanced with a defense that became immeasurably better with the return of John Henson. I am sticking with North Carolina against Ohio, but there are a few too many variables remaining to call the potential Kansas vs. UNC matchup, or for that matter, the potential NC State vs Carolina matchup. Again, the best thing that Carolina has going for it against Kansas is their defense, if they are absent Kendall Marshall. If Marshall is truly done for the season, take Kansas here into the Final Four.
My favorite topic this March has been the Wolfpack of North Carolina State. When the bracket was announced on Selection Sunday, they were an easy Cinderella pick, and they have shown their quality throughout the tournament so far. Mark Gottfried was my pick for ACC coach of the year, and although Leonard Hamilton of Florida State took those honors, the team that goes further in this tournament is all that matters. Gottfried has been here before and look for him to go a bit further leading an NC State team that is playing truly inspired basketball. They were down big against Georgetown early in the first half and clawed back to dispose of the Hoyas. They never looked back.
Defense was the Wolfpack’s strongpoint against Georgetown, and it will have to be against Kansas, if NC State has any hope of beating the Jayhawks. CJ Leslie and Lorenzo Brown are both complete players and they can give you game on both the offensive side, as well as the defensive side. NC State plays seven players, and every one of them is a threat to steal the ball. They have lengthy arms and can block the ball very efficiently. As a team, they had 144 blocks this year in a very tough conference, the ACC.
NC State vs. Kansas
Kansas has some obvious players in Tyshawn Taylor and Thomas Robinson, who at 6’10” will be very tough to defend against. Unfortunately for Kansas, Mr. Robinson has a lackluster assist to turnover ratio, and look for that to be a factor against NC State. Interestingly, Robinson never took a 3 point shot in either his freshman or sophomore seasons, but he found the talent this year, shooting a very respectable 46%. Tyshawn Taylor can move the ball well, giving the Jayhawks 164 assists this year, but unfortunately combining that with 120 turnovers. At 6’3”, he will likely make an easy target for NC State, who seems to thrive on stealing the ball, as well as blocking it. Look for NC State to roll again, upsetting the Jayhawks this time, on their way to a Regional Final against conference foe North Carolina. I will be making that bet on my favorite basketball betting sites.
If the Wolfpack manages to pull off the upset and play against the Tar Heels in the Regional Final, look for a defensive matchup. Without Kendall Marshall, Carolina will have to reinvent itself to continue forward, and they will have to do it defensively. John Henson will be a big part of that.