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March 23, 2013
UNC Looks for Revenge Against KU
North Carolina had a tale of two teams Friday night against Villanova.
At one point, the Tar Heels were knocking down shots, getting out in transition, and looking to put away the outgunned Wildcats quickly. Then 'Nova turned up the defense, forcing the Tar Heels to turn the ball over and to put up shots that seemed a little off and rushed within the offense.
Villanova came back from a 20 point deficit to take a lead in the second half, eventually leading to Roy Williams making his classic move of pulling all five starters.
The team received the message, putting away the Wildcats towards the end of the game, as P.J. Hairston led the Tar Heels with 23 points, knocking down five critical threes.
Now, North Carolina (25-10) will face a team that they have struggled with in the past tournaments in Kansas (30-5), the team who ended their run in the Elite Eight of last year's NCAA Tournament.
Tip off will be at 5:15pm eastern time. The Jayhawks put away Western Kentucky Friday night in what was a very close game throughout, inching out a 64-57 win.
Even though Kansas shot 47 percent for the game, Western Kentucky forced Kansas to play a slower game with turnovers and knocking down some shots. But KU was just too much, finally pulling away by knocking some last minutes free throws to seal the game.
Kansas and North Carolina have faced each other twice in the last two years and three times in the last six years in the NCAA Tournament, with Kansas winning both matchups.
The last time the Tar Heels defeated Kansas was back in 2002, the final season of the Matt Doherty era, when UNC defeated the Final Four-bound Jawhawks in Madison Square Garden in the championship of the preseason NIT.
Of course, Williams was on the losing end as well that evening, so it's been even longer since he was a winner in this series.
Williams will undoubtedly have the two recent losses to Kansas on his mind and will be looking to end his losing streak against his former team coming off his 700th victory on Friday over Villanova.
However, Kansas will be a totally different type of game than when the Tar Heels faced Villanova, as Kansas likes to get up and down the floor, especially with its big men (much like how the Tar Heels have played in the past).
In what will be essentially a home game for the Jayhawks playing in Kansas City's Sprint Center, North Carolina will have to be on top of its game to defeat one of the top teams in the country and return to the Sweet Sixteen for the seventh time in ten seasons under Williams.
Matching up Kansas vs. UNC
Those who watched KU struggle against Western Kentucky couldn't get a true diagnosis as to how Kansas really is as a team. The ball movement was slow and the big men down low, though at times were dominating, didn't show their offensive and defensive strength that they have had all year long.
Kansas pushes the ball with its upper-class back court, as Elijah Johnson leads the team on the floor, averaging 9.9 points per game, while dishing out 4.7 assists.
But he isn't their only threat from the guard position, as the Jayhawks have one of the top freshman in the country Ben McLemore (16.2 points per game) and Travis Releford (11.5 points per game), who is another senior that plays a huge role for his team.
Coach Williams has been really impressed with the freshman this year and his ability to score.
"McLemore is really a fantastic scorer," Williams replied Saturday. "Hubie Brown said one time the shooter is one who makes up for a multitude of sins. He can really shoot. You have to understand that part of it."
"He's a little more mature than Marcus (Paige) because he was at the program last year, gone through some things. He's just an unbelievable scorer who does other things well. But you have to understand, he is a scorer."
Marcus Paige, Reggie Bullock, and Dexter Strickland will have their hands full and will need to provide scoring along with a defensive presence.
Bullock and Paige combined for 29 points and eight assists against Villanova, as both players hit some key shots down the stretch Friday night. Strickland will look to bounce back, as he only had two points, three assists, and three turnovers.
Overall, the Jayhawks are sound on the offensive side, averaging 75.1 points, along with averaging 15.5 assists a game and really attacking the glass offensively (9.7 offensive rebounds per game).
The balance between the frontcourt and backcourt has been a reason why Kansas has gone 30-5 this season, as most teams can't seem to stop both sides defensively.
"I think they're leading the nation this year in defensive field goal percentage. They're really good defensively. They're athletic. They're long. They have a shot‑blocker at the goal," said Williams of the Jayhawks.
"Last year they just dominated the last four or five minutes of the game (against us). We didn't make very many plays. I thought Jeff Withey was really strong in that time period when we did go inside."
"But I think if you have a shot‑blocker around the basket, you take away the other team's second‑shot opportunities," Williams continued. "If they get an offensive rebound, he (Withey) has a chance to block it. You have people on the perimeter like Elijah (Johnson) and Travis (Releford) who do a good job defensively and keep the ball in front of them. They have length. They can steal the ball, but they don't think that's necessarily their number one objective. Their number one objective is to give you a bad shot."
If North Carolina thought it had trouble with Villanova rebounding, the Jayhawks will be a whole different story.
The Tar Heels were out rebounded by the Wildcats 35-23, as Villanova corralled 14 offensive rebounds.
This will be one of the main factors in Sunday's game, as the Tar Heels will have to attack the glass, limiting Kansas' second chance points.
Kansas is in the top 15 in rebounding, out rebounding their opponents by almost six rebounds a game. But with the small lineup for UNC, the rebounding margin could be a great deal bigger, giving the Jayhawks more chances with the basketball.
James Michael McAdoo will have his hands full down low with Withey but will have to stay out of foul trouble and use his quickness to step outside with his shot and drive to the basket, creating possible contact and fouls.
McAdoo commented Saturday about Withey and what he remembers from last year in the loss.
"I know last year he was still a good shot‑blocker," McAdoo said. "But I feel like going to the game last year, we didn't really look at that as one of the biggest things we were worried about. But definitely this year knowing that they have him down there, I think he's, if not leading the nation in blocked shots, he's really comfortable with that."
"I feel like he's great on the offensive end, too. His teammates look to find him. I think that's a big thing that we just need to limit his touches deep in the post."
The Jayhawks don't shoot the ball well from behind the arc, only making around six threes a game. However, Kansas ranks No. 202 in three pointers allowed, giving up over 6.5 each game, but also allowing teams to shoot over 20 a game, something we all know the Tar Heels will do.
Last year, the Tar Heels shot 2 of 17 from behind the arc against KU in the loss in St. Louis, and will obviously need a much better game in that statistic this time around to pull off this upset.
Bullock talked about last year's struggle and what the Tar Heels will need to do this year to turn it around.
"I felt like last year we was missing open shots we usually make," Bullock replied. "Like you said, we went 2‑17 from the three‑point arc. We had a lot of open looks we missed. Hopefully this year it will just be better when we out there shooting the three."
When the Tar Heels were announced on Selection Sunday, most everyone assumed that Kansas would be looming on Sunday.
Well now the time is here, as the Tar Heels will have to somehow turn the tide from this rough year against Top 25 teams and against past KU teams that have knocked the Tar Heels out of the tournament in order to live another day.
The winner of this Tar Heel-Jayhawk matchup draws Michigan, who dominated VCU Saturday afternoon to punch its ticket to the Sweet Sixteen.