Friday's slate of Sweet 16 games present an intriguing matchup between number one seed and perennial contenders, North Carolina Tar Heels take on one of the surprise teams of the tournament, the 13th-seeded Ohio Bobcats.
The Tar Heels have gotten to this point by playing like they have all season long. Their up-tempo style has proven too much for both Vermont and Creighton, and it will be tough for Ohio to handle as well. One possible caveat is the health of point guard Kendall Marshall. The nation's second-leading assist man was felled by a wrist fracture against Creighton and is questionable against the Bobcats.
Most would consider it a shock that Ohio has gotten to this point, but perhaps it shouldn't be. Ohio has a sparkling 29-7 record and was the top team in the competitive MAC this season. Diminutive point guard D.J. Cooper has been on a tear since the start of the MAC tournament and will have to be dominant if the Bobcats want to pull off the upset.
Here is your detailed guide to Friday's Sweet 16 showdown between North Carolina and Ohio.
Where: Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis, Mo.
When: Friday, March 23 at 7:47 p.m. ET
Listen: WRAL 99.9 FM (North Carolina) and WXTQ 105.5 FM (Ohio)
Betting Line: North Carolina (-10.5)
North Carolina Key Injuries (According to USA Today)
Out: G Dexter Strickland (knee), G Leslie McDonald (knee)
Questionable: G Kendall Marshall (wrist)
Ohio Key Injuries (According to USA Today)
Out: F TyQuane Goard (academics)
Which team will win this game?
What's at Stake?
With each passing round the stakes get higher and higher, with the winner of this game earning a spot in the Elite Eight. For North Carolina that is most definitely the norm and it has been the expectation all season long. The Tar Heels have had their bumps along the road, but they have been a top team all year. Anything short of an Elite Eight appearance will be considered a massive failure.
As for the Bobcats, they are playing with house money at this point. Nobody gives a 13 seed much of a chance to get out of the third round, let alone all the way to Elite Eight. Reaching the Sweet 16 means that the Bobcats' season is already a major success. However, a win over UNC would mark the biggest triumph in school history by far.
What They're Saying
There is no question that the biggest storyline entering this game will be the status of Kendall Marshall. Just a few days ago John Henson's wrist was head coach Roy Williams' biggest worry, but now the focus has shifted. Although Marshall is listed as questionable after successfully undergoing surgery, Williams isn't optimistic he'll play, according to Andrew Carter of the News Observer.
"My guess, and it's purely a guess, is Kendall will not play. But we really don't know anything."
Most Important Player to Watch: Harrison Barnes
As North Carolina's leading scorer at 17.3 points per game and second-leading three-point shooter, small forward Harrison Barnes is clearly a huge key to the Tar Heels' success. He will have to be even better and more involved with the absence of Marshall. In UNC's win over Creighton, Barnes netted 14 points but took a few puzzling shots that won't fly if the Tar Heels want to advance.
Aside from Marshall, Barnes is the only player on North Carolina with enough playmaking ability to run the point. Expect Barnes to play a lot of point forward against Ohio.
Key Matchup: D.J. Cooper vs. UNC PG
No player has been more integral to Ohio's improbable run than point guard D.J. Cooper. The 5'11" point man has done a little bit of everything for the Bobcats and has made a name for himself on the national stage. Cooper is the team's leading scorer at a shade under 15 points per contest, and also leads the team in assists with 5.7 per game.
Cooper has been shattering those averages since postseason play began and he helped lift his Bobcats to wins over Michigan and South Florida in the big dance. There's a possibility that he will match up against the hobbled Kendall Marshall. If Marshall can't go, then Cooper will have a major advantage against whomever UNC throws out, most likely, Stilman White. If that is the case, then Cooper will have the opportunity to have the game of his life.
North Carolina 83, Ohio 70