With Friday night’s games now over, the Elite 8 is complete. We have already previewed today’s Regional Final games between Louisville-Florida and Syracuse-Ohio State. Now let’s look at Sunday’s games.
In the Midwest Regional Final, the #1 seed North Carolina Tar Heels will face off against the #2 seed Kansas Jayhawks in a battle of college basketball royalty.
[Related: View Andy’s Kentucky-Baylor preview and prediction.]
North Carolina-Kansas Game Info
- Seeds & Region: #1 North Carolina v #2 Kansas in Midwest Region
- North Carolina-Kansas Date: Sunday, 3/25
- North Carolina-Kansas Tip Time: 5:05 ET
- North Carolina-Kansas Location: St. Louis
- North Carolina-Kansas TV: CBS
- North Carolina-Kansas Announcers: Marv Albert and Steve Kerr
- North Carolina-Kansas Point Spread: Kansas -2
- Tickets: Midwest Regional Tickets in St. Louis
North Carolina-Kansas Analysis and Prediction
On Sunday, the top two seeds in the Midwest region will face off in St. Louis with a trip to the Final Four in New Orleans on the line.
A Kendall Marshall-less North Carolina needed overtime to beat Ohio on Friday night, and 24 turnovers and 10 missed free throws were nearly the Heels’ undoing. But Tyler Zeller had a monster game with 20 points and 22 boards, while Reggie Bullock had a double-double of his own with 17 point and 10 rebounds, including a number of clutch three-pointers.
The Jayhawks overcame 1-of-14 shooting from beyond the arc to knock off North Carolina State by three. Thomas Robinson posted 18 points and 15 rebounds, and Jeff Withey blocked 10 shots to help hold the Wolfpack to 28.4 percent from the field.
If there was any question as to just how important Kendall Marshall is to North Carolina, they were answered on Friday night, as the Heels looked completely out of sync on offense.
His status for Sunday’s game is unknown at this point, and while you certainly can’t rule him out entirely, you have to question how effective he would be just six days removed from wrist surgery.
North Carolina-Kansas By The Numbers
Regardless of who starts at the point, North Carolina will have its hands full with a stingy Kansas defense that ranks fourth in adjusted efficiency. Look for some fantastic frontcourt matchups between Robinson and Withey for KU and Zeller and John Henson for the Heels. Kansas boasts the top two-point defense in the country, thanks in large part to the shot-blocking prowess of Withey. As good as UNC is inside, they are actually outside of the Top 100 in two-point shooting.
The battle on the glass will be critical as well. The Tar Heels grab just over 40 percent of their misses this season and rank in the Top 10 in offensive rebounding percentage. The Jayhawks are tough on the defensive glass though, as evidenced by a 29.2 opponents’ OReb%. Something has to give there, but it’s worth noting that UNC grabbed 17 offensive boards on Friday, while the Jayhawks surrendered 20 offensive rebounds to NC State.
Normally the Heels take great care of the basketball, but obviously without Marshall that becomes a huge concern, even against a Kansas defense that doesn’t force turnovers at a high rate. That makes the play of Harrison Barnes even more critical for North Carolina. He went just 3-of-16 from the field and had five turnovers against the Bobcats, spurring plenty of criticism from the Twitterverse.
On the other end of the floor, the keys to the game are similar. Kansas ranks 12th in two-point shooting at 53.4 percent, while North Carolina is in the Top 25 in two-point defense and boasts a high block percentage. Again, I can’t wait to see these teams square off inside.
The rebounding matchup will be pivotal when Kansas has the ball as well. The Heels have one of the best defensive rebounding percentages in the country, but Robinson, Withey, and even Kevin Young love to crash the glass.
The Jayhawks have a middle of the road turnover rate, but UNC rarely forces miscues, so don’t expect much there. However, keep an eye on KU’s free throw rate. The Heels have the lowest opponents’ free throw rate in the nation, while Kansas boasts an impressive 40.7 free throw rate of its own. Tyshawn Taylor has been particularly adept at getting to the line, and it will be a challenge for North Carolina to contain him off the dribble.
North Carolina-Kansas Prediction
Obviously the inside matchups are the one to watch, particularly in terms of foul trouble. Robinson has drawn nearly six fouls per 40 minutes, and if he can get either Zeller or Henson in foul trouble, I like Kansas’ chances. Similarly, Zeller is among the best at drawing fouls in the country, and if he gets Withey or Robinson in foul trouble, Bill Self doesn’t have many other options.
I’m not convinced that Marshall will be able to play for North Carolina, and even if he does, I have a hard time believing he’ll be particularly effective. I think Robinson and Withey can do enough defensively inside, while the absence of Marshall gives Tyshawn Taylor a huge edge on the perimeter.
Predicted Winner: Kansas
Kansas Jayhawks Team Capsule
- Conference: Big 12
- Record: 27-6 (16-2 conf)
- Last 10 Games: 9-1
- Record vs. Tournament Teams: 12-6
- Wins vs. Tournament Teams: Baylor (2), Georgetown, Iowa State, Kansas State (2), Long Beach State, Missouri, Ohio State, South Florida, Texas (2)
- Losses vs. Tournament Teams: Baylor, Davidson, Duke, Iowa State, Kentucky, Missouri
- Player to Watch: Thomas Robinson (6’9” F, Jr.) – 17.9 ppg, 11.8 rpg, 1.1 spg, 1.0 bpg, 53.1 FG%
Kansas Bottoms Line:
Despite losing a number of key contributors from last season’s team, the Jayhawks refused to relinquish their stranglehold on the Big 12 and won the league by two full games.
Player of the Year candidate Thomas Robinson is a double-double machine who is relentless on both ends of the floor. His 31.6 defensive rebounding percentage is the best in the country, and he has proved adept at getting opposing defenders into foul trouble. The other key offensive weapon is guard Tyshawn Taylor, who averages 17.3 points and a team-high 4.8 assists while hitting 43.5 percent from deep. Center Jeff Withey has come up big for the Jayhawks on multiple occasions and always impacts the game with his rebounding and shot-blocking prowess.
Overall, Kansas ranks in the Top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency, and their two-point shooting and two-point defense are also among the nation’s best. They have also done a solid job of getting to the line and competing on the glass.
North Carolina Tar Heels Team Capsule
- Conference: ACC
- Record: 29-5 (14-2 conf)
- Last 10 Games: 9-1
- Record vs. Tournament Teams: 9-5
- Wins vs. Tournament Teams: Duke, Long Beach State, Michigan, State, North Carolina State (3), Texas, UNC-Asheville, Virginia (2), Wisconsin
- Losses vs. Tournament Teams: Duke, Florida State (2), Kentucky, UNLV
- Player to Watch: Tyler Zeller (7’0” F, Sr.) – 16.5 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 1.3 bpg, 55.5 FG%
North Carolina Bottoms Line:
The Tar Heels came into the season as one of the favorites to win it all, and they hung onto a one seed despite losing to Florida State in the ACC Championship Game on Sunday. For the year, they ranked 13th in offensive efficiency and 12th on the defense end, the latter of which probably surprises people. They posted the lowest opponents’ free throw rate in the country and ranked inside the Top 30 in effective field goal percentage defense and defense rebounding percentage. Just don’t count the Heels forcing many turnovers. You also shouldn’t count on them turning it over at a high rate, as they rank ninth in the country there.
They are also ninth in offensive rebounding percentage, led to by the duo of Tyler Zeller and John Henson. Zeller was second on the team in points, rebounds, and blocked shots while hitting over 55 percent from the field, and he earned ACC Player of the Year honors as well. Henson injured his wrist in the ACC Tournament, but I would imagine he plays in the NCAAs. He averaged a double-double for the season and blocked 2.9 shots per game as well. Both guys posted strong rebounding rates on both ends of the floor, with Zeller finishing with the superior free throw rate.
Point guard Kendall Marshall doled out nearly 10 assists per game and finished with one of the top assist rates in the country. Last year’s top incoming freshman Harrison Barnes led the team in scoring with 17.4 points per game to go with 5.2 rebounds. Multiple backcourt injuries have placed more pressure on Reggie Bullock and P.J. Hairston, and both have shown flashes this season. If Henson is healthy, the Heels have more than enough talent to get to the Final Four.