NCAA Tournament 2012: A Look Ahead at the Kansas Jayhawks' Route to Elite Eight

J.B. BlanchardContributor IMarch 23, 2012

OMAHA, NE - MARCH 18: Thomas Robinson #0 of the Kansas Jayhawks  celebrates their come from behind win over the Purdue Boilermakers during the second round of the NCAA Mens Basketball Tournament at CenturyLink Center March 18, 2012 in Omaha, Nebraska. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
Eric Francis/Getty Images

The Kansas Jayhawks avoided their second early exit of the NCAA tournament in two years after defeating the Purdue Boilermakers in the final minutes of third-round action.

The Purdue Boilermakers gave the Jayhawks everything they could handle, including a 26-point, nine-rebound night from fifth-year senior, Robbie Hummel. The Boilermakers forced Kansas into a style it was uncomfortable playing, however late-game heroics from junior Elijah Johnson and senior Tyshawn Taylor led the Jayhawks to victory. 

On Friday night, Kansas will face an athletic and battle-tested North Carolina State team featuring one of the top frontcourt players in college basketball, C.J. Leslie. The Wolfpack of N.C. State faced many top teams in the country throughout the season, such as Syracuse, Duke, Florida State and three games against the North Carolina Tar Heels. 

The game against N.C. State will rely heavily on which team can stay out of foul trouble, as both teams do not have much depth. Kansas will need a third scorer to emerge other than Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor, just as Elijah Johnson did against Purdue.

Another important factor for the Jayhawks will be junior center Jeff Withey. If he can manage to stay in the game, it will help Robinson tremendously because Withey will take a lot of pressure away from Robinson in the post, both on offense and defense. The Jayhawks center has emerged as one of the best defensive big men in his junior season, with his 7'0", 235-pound frame and his ability to block shots. 

With a victory against N.C. State, the Jayhawks would presumably face the top seed in the Midwest section, the North Carolina Tar Heels. The Tar Heels have won their first two tournament games with ease, however their star point guard, Kendall Marshall, suffered a broken wrist in their win against Creighton last Sunday. 

There has been much speculation as to whether or not Marshall will be able to play again this season, but regardless, he will not be the same player he has been if can play. This injury gives the Jayhawks a big advantage because Marshall is the true facilitator of the Tar Heels offense.