With all the media attention MU has gotten about JUCO players, Buzz's antics, and a Sweet 16 being someone's birthday, it's time to get past all of that and focus on the task at hand: taking down North Carolina. While Marquette has made an impressive run thus far as an 11-seed, it only gets tougher from here when they take on the #2-seed tar heels Friday night in Newark.
Since Larry Drew left the squad in December and Kendall Marshall took over at point guard, UNC has improved tremendously. They're creating much better looks on offense and are turning over the ball at much lower clip than they had over the last 1.5 seasons. They're probably the most improved team in college basketball over the last 3 months, and to use a couple cliches, they've gone from "pretender" to "contender." After losing to Duke at Cameron in February, Carolina rattled off 9 straights wins, won the ACC regular season crown, and made it to the finals of the ACC Tournament before getting knocked off by Duke. The tar heels beat Long Island University in the first round and narrowly escaped with a win over Washington in the second round.
Most media folks have Carolina winning this game because 1) Carolina's a 2-seed playing an 11-seed and 2) Carolina's a 2-seed playing an 11-seed. Not a lot of writers have the stones to predict the upset, but Jon Rothstein does.
What you need to know about Carolina
They're deep. The heels have 9 guys on their team that play at least 15 minutes a game. Coach Roy Williams can constantly sub fresh legs in throughout the game to wear down the opposition. Of these 9 guys, 5 of them are averaging at least 7 ppg, and three of those five are double-digit scorers.
They're long Of the 9 guys that play meaningful minutes, 5 of them are 6'7 or taller. John Henson and Tyler Zeller are averaging 10 and 7 rpg, respectively. Between these two, they're blocking 4.5 shots per game. Henson doesn't look like a force to be reckoned with given his build at 6'10 and 210 lbs, but anyone who's watched him live knows that he can compete with just about anyone in the paint, including ACC foes Chris Singleton and the Plumlee brothers. Carolina is the best rebounding team left in the dance with 46 rpg.
They're fast The heels average 72 possessions a game, more than anyone else in the Sweet 16. Roy has always coached his teams to play fast and score in transition, and this team is no different. Kendall Marshall excels at having court vision in transition and can almost always find the open man down the floor.
They play great defense Carolina is allowing 0.886 points per possession, 5th best in the Sweet 16. Between blocking shots and good defensive rebounding they don't allow a lot of second-chance points. They also limit their opponents in shooting free throws, as their FTA/FGA ratio is second in the country, only behind Ohio State.
Players to watch out for:
- Kendall Marshall No surprise here. He has averaged 12 assists per game in the tournament, very dangerous in that quarterback role. Shoots 39% from beyond the arc.
- John Henson Averages 12 points, 10 boards, and 3 blocks per game. Our 4's and 5's will have their hands full against him.
- Tyler Zeller Gets down the floor surprisingly quick for a guy that's 7 feet tall. Makes a lot of three-point plays.
- Leslie MacDonald Only plays 15 minutes a game, but averages about 0.5 points per minute when he is in. Can be a deep threat at times too.
KEYS TO WINNING THIS GAME
Slow the game down Carolina will look to score and score often in this contest. MU doesn't have the speed to keep up with these guys, so we have to play them in a half-court battle. If we try to score in transition the way they do, it can lead to a lot of turnovers and a big deficit early on.
Crash the boards As I said, Carolina is the best rebounding team in the country. However, Marquette was able to out-rebound a pretty good rebounding team in Syracuse last Sunday. If Otule and Crowder and box out Henson and Zeller in the low post, we can hang with these guys and score crucial second-chance points.
Continue to play great defense While MU has allowed 0.95 points per possession, they've only allowed 0.92 points per possession over the last two games. This has been a key reason why we're still in the tournament. If we can force a few extra turnovers on these guys and keep Kendall Marshall from feeding Henson and Zeller in the post, we'll have a fighting chance until the end.
Stay out of foul trouble Otule! Chris Otule has fouled out of both games this tournament. We'll need Chris to play at least 20 minutes in this game to help keep Carolina's big men at bay. If he's on the bench for extended minutes because of foul trouble, we may not be able to keep up with Zeller and Henson.
MU's date with Carolina is at 6:15 on Friday. We're gonna need all the three goggles we can get to knock these guys out. If Buzz keeps his team focused the way they've been so far I think we've got a shot at a W.