After just barely beating No. 13-seeded Ohio on Friday and playing again without point guard Kendall Marshall, No. 1-seeded North Carolina didn’t really come into today’s Elite Eight matchup with Kansas the overwhelming favorite.
But with a Final Four spot on the line, both teams have showed up to play, and the score is tied 47-47 at halftime. The first half has been a back-and-forth affair, with each team taking over the lead four times.
Here’s a look at two things that have gone well for UNC in the first half, and two things that haven’t.
# Bench Production: With point guard Kendall Marshall out for the second straight game, the Tar Heels needed to step up to have any hope in beating the No. 2-seeded Jayhawks and making it to the Final Four. And so far, they have. Freshman forward James Michael McAdoo leads the Tar Heels with 10 points, while senior Justin Watts has five, including a clutch game-tying 3-pointer. Sure, UNC misses Marshall. But so far, the Tar Heels are trying to make sure it doesn’t look that obvious.
# Shooting: The Tar Heels came out strong, sinking 11 of their first 13 shots. Out of the gate, it appeared that Kansas couldn’t miss, but UNC couldn’t either. Tyler Zeller finished the half 4-for-6, and McAdoo went 5-for-7. Though North Carolina started missing more of its shots later in the half, they still went into the locker room at the break shooting 64 percent from the field. If both teams continue to shoot well in the second half, it’ll be an interesting finish.
# Defense: Kansas is no easy team to defend, but North Carolina is still doing a fairly lousy job. With Thomas Robinson to look after in the post, Kansas has used the Player of the Year candidate as a decoy. Often times, when the ball is in Robinson’s hands, each of the five defenders UNC has have focused on him. In those situations Robinson, smartly, kicked out to shooters the Tar Heels left open. But UNC’s perimeter defense in general could improve. Kansas has already beaten the Tar Heels off the dribble a handful of times. This is shaping out to be a high scoring game. Those games usually come down to which defense makes a stop at the end.
# Rebounding: North Carolina is one of the best rebounding teams in the country, but right now, Kansas is outrebounding UNC 16-to-13. In most games, the rebounding margin only benefits UNC. Whether it’s put-back baskets, an offensive rebound or just a defensive board, UNC is getting more possessions and limiting its opponents when it wins the rebounding margin. Kansas can go toe-to-toe with UNC’s height, which makes it tougher for the Tar Heels. In a close game, and this one appears to be heading that way, rebounding and every extra possession will matter.