NCAA Tournament 2012: 50 Lessons We've Learned After 4th Round

Ryan RudnanskySenior Writer IMarch 24, 2012

NCAA Tournament 2012: 50 Lessons We've Learned After 4th Round

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    The NCAA tournament has a way of breaking hearts and lifting them at the same time.

    If you have a glaring weakness, chances are it will be exposed sooner or later. If you are playing above expectations, chances are you will go on a run.

    The Sweet 16 showed us plenty about the remaining field, some things we hadn't yet realized. And as we get down to the Elite Eight, the men have separated themselves from the boys.

    Here are 50 lessons we learned after the fourth round of the NCAA tournament.

Syracuse Doesn't Care About Loss of Fab Melo

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    Remember when Fab Melo was deemed ineligible and Syracuse, the No. 2 team in the land, was supposed to go up in flames?

    Well, turns out the Orange are a much better team than we gave them credit for.

    Whether it be Rakeem Christmas or Baye Keita, Syracuse is finding ways to make up for Melo's loss.

Scoop Jardine Has Stepped Up for Orange

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    Scoop Jardine has been solid throughout the tournament, posting 14 points and four assists against Wisconsin in the Sweet 16.

    Jardine is just one of several players who have stepped up for the Orange, and the senior is intending on going out on a high note.

Syracuse Is Still Playing Splendid Defense

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    Wisconsin may have uncharacteristically caught fire from three-point range, but the Badgers still shoot 42 percent from the floor overall.

    Syracuse, despite losing its anchor in the paint, is playing the kind of defense that makes life mighty tough on opponents.

Dion Waiters Knows How to Play Basketball

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    Dion Waiters, a potential first-round pick if he declares for the NBA draft this year, is a very, very good basketball player.

    He's averaging 14.3 points off the bench in the tournament and has been extremely efficient. He can hit the three-ball and finish in the lane.

    Don't be tricked by Waiters' bench status. He's the Orange's best player.

Jim Boeheim Is One of Those Really Good Coaches

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    We shouldn't be surprised Syracuse has been able to cover up the loss of Fab Melo.

    Jim Boeheim has won a national championship and three regional championships while with the Orange. He puts his players in the best position to win and always has a backup plan.

    You can bet he's been preparing his bench for moments like these all season long.

Louisville's Gorgui Dieng Knows How to Protect the Rim

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    One of the reasons I had Louisville upsetting Michigan State was because of sophomore center Gorgui Dieng, who averaged 3.1 blocks this season.

    Well, he protected the rim against Draymond Green and Michigan State in the Sweet 16, collecting a career-high seven blocks and grabbing nine rebounds.

    For the tournament, Dieng is averaging 8.6 rebounds and 4.0 blocks. Not a bad guy to have down in the low post.

C.J. Fair Has Come out of Nowhere

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    Syracuse sophomore forward C.J. Fair averaged 8.6 points this season for the Orange.

    In the Sweet 16, against a pesky Wisconsin defense, he went off, scoring 15 points on 7-of-9 shooting and grabbing seven rebounds.

    Pleasant surprises like this have a way of lifting short-handed squads.

Syracuse Has Lost Its Advantage in Rebounding

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    Syracuse may have edged out Wisconsin, but there has been a drop in rebounding with Fab Melo out.

    Syracuse and Wisconsin were knotted at 23 rebounds apiece by the end of the game, and this came against a Badgers squad that was ranked 210th in the nation in rebounding during the regular season.

    Syracuse is stronger than expected down low, but to ignore its loss in rebounding is being blind.

Louisville Is Playing Scary Defense

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    We all knew Rick Pitino's Louisville squad had a very good defense, accentuated by their 9.0 steals per game this season.

    But what the Cardinals did against Michigan State was fantastic.

    Louisville held the West's No. 1 seed to 28 percent shooting and forced 15 turnovers (despite Peyton Siva having zero steals). Draymond Green shot 5-of-16 and committed six turnovers.

Kris Joseph Has Gone Cold for the Orange

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    Senior forward Kris Joseph averaged 13.8 points for the Orange in the regular season, but he's gone 8-of-25 from the floor in three tournament games.

    If you told me Joseph would go cold in the tournament after the loss of Fab Melo, I'd tell you there was no way Syracuse could make it to the Elite Eight.

    Then again, this Syracuse team gets it done, one way or another.

Syracuse Taking Care of the Ball

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    Syracuse took care of the ball in the regular season and it's doing the same in the NCAA tournament.

    The Orange committed just six turnovers against Wisconsin's feisty defense, with only Brandon Triche coughing the ball up more than once.

    It's this kind of ball control that keeps teams chugging.

Syracuse Has Defense to Keep Ohio State at Bay

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    Syracuse continues to prove, despite the loss of its defensive anchor, that it has the defense to create problems for all kinds of teams.

    The Orange held high-powered Florida and Marquette to 68 points and 66 points, respectively, during the regular season.

    Ohio State will be Syracuse's biggest challenge, but I expect the Buckeyes to be limited against the Orange.

Never Underestimate Rick Pitino

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    Rick Pitino has won a national championship and five regional championships during his illustrious coaching career.

    That's why we should have seen this coming when Louisville beat Marquette, Notre Dame and Cincinnati en route to the NCAA tournament.

    Louisville had a tough first two rounds, pitted against Cinderella hopeful Davidson and underrated New Mexico. Then the Cardinals beat a powerhouse in Michigan State, led by a great coach in Tom Izzo.

    The Cardinals are playing their best ball at just the right time.

Syracuse Still Isn't a Powerhouse

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    Syracuse's last two wins of the tournament have been impressive, but the Orange still won by just one point against Wisconsin. That's not exactly dominance.

    Beating Wisconsin is great, but Ohio State will pose a far greater challenge. The Buckeyes have a better offense, and a pretty darn good defense, too.

    Syracuse certainly isn't bulletproof, and don't think Jim Boeheim doesn't know that. He's going to prepare his butt off for this game.

Brandon Triche Has Stepped Up for Syracuse

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    Junior guard Brandon Triche averaged 9.3 points while shooting 41 percent from the floor during the regular season.

    In the NCAA tournament, Triche is shooting 55 percent from the floor, including 5-of-7 for 11 points against Wisconsin. That's quite a difference.

    The Orange have undoubtedly come to play.

Louisville Can Win Without Peyton Siva or Kyle Kuric

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    Louisville has a great defense, but the Cardinals have to get their offense somewhere.

    That's why when leader Peyton Siva went 2-of-9 from the floor against Michigan State, it was shocking that the Cardinals won.

    You add in the fact that off guard Kyle Kuric shot 3-of-8 and you have a team that can win without its backcourt, primarily because of its swarming defense.

Louisville's Frontcourt Has Stepped Up

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    The fact of the matter is, things could have gone the other way against Michigan State if it weren't for Louisville's frontcourt of Gorgui Dieng and Chane Behanan.

    Dieng was a defensive force in the paint and Behanan erupted for 15 points and nine rebounds, while combining with Dieng for six steals.

    Behanan has averaged 13 points and eight boards during the NCAA tournament.

Ohio State Isn't Afraid of Physical Teams

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    If you would have told me Cincinnati was going to shoot at a high percentage from the floor, I would have told you that the Bearcats would have a shot against Ohio State.

    But Jared Sullinger and Co. outmuscled a physical Cincy team, complete with legit big man Yancy Gates, and showed they won't let anyone intimidate them.

    Their rebounding advantage was a sign of their interior persistence.

Louisville Has the Rebounding to Reach Final Four

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    Against a very good rebounding team in Michigan State, Louisville racked up 34 rebounds, 18 of them coming from the combo of Gorgui Dieng and Chane Behanan.

    Louisville not only has the defense to go far, it has the rebounding.

    The Cardinals continue to look scarier as the tournament goes on.

Jared Sullinger Continues to Be a Star

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    Matched up against big man Yancy Gates, all Jared Sullinger did was go off for 23 points and 11 rebounds.

    Sullinger shot 7-of-13 from the floor and 9-of-10 from the free-throw line and continues to perform at a very high level in the NCAA tournament.

    Sullinger is likely a top-10 pick if he declares for the NBA draft after the season, and he's showing why in the tourney.

Deshaun Thomas Isn't a Bad Second Option

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    Jared Sullinger has gotten a lot of the glory, but Deshaun Thomas has been straight-up dominant in the NCAA tournament.

    Against Cincinnati, Thomas erupted for 26 points and seven rebounds, while hitting three three-pointers in the process.

    Thomas is averaging 25 points and 13 rebounds in the NCAA tournament and completes a powerful one-two combination in the frontcourt.

Florida's Bradley Beal Is a Very Good Basketball Player

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    Already slated as a potential top-10 pick in the NBA draft, guard Bradley Beal continues to dominate for the Florida Gators.

    Beal erupted for 21 points, six rebounds, four assists, two steals and two blocks against Marquette in the Sweet 16, showing the overall game that makes him an intriguing NBA prospect.

    Beal is averaging 16.3 points, 8.6 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.6 steals in the NCAA tournament. He's Florida's superstar, and he just helped knock off an explosive Marquette team.

Ohio State Is Forcing Turnovers in Bunches

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    Ohio State forced 18 turnovers against Cincinnati, a big reason why the Buckeyes were able to pull away despite the Bearcats shooting an uncharacteristic 46 percent from the field.

    Guard Aaron Craft continues to be a nightmare for opposing guards. He's averaging 2.4 steals for the season and collected six against Cincy. He has 12 steals in three tournament games.

Florida Finding a Way to Get It Done Offensively

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    The Gators came into the tournament averaging 76.3 points, 27th in the nation. They shot 46 percent from the floor during the regular season.

    Through their first two tournament games, the Gators were on par, shooting 52 percent and averaging 77.5 points.

    But Florida ran into a physical opponent in Marquette in the Sweet 16 and struggled mightily from the field, shooting 40 percent and going 7-of-27 from downtown.

    Still, Florida found a way to put up points, going 13-of-15 from the free-throw line and outscoring Marquette in the paint.

    Even when the Gators aren't shooting the ball well, they are finding a way to make up for it.

Ohio State's Guards Are Attacking the Glass

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    When you have an interior presence like Jared Sullinger and you back that up with scrappy guards who rebound the basketball, that's enough to drive any opponent crazy.

    William Buford, Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith combined for 14 rebounds against Cincinnati and Buford had two offensive boards.

    When you can get your guards attacking the glass, you have an added dimension that can make you even more of a threat in the postseason.

Ohio State Can Win Without a Deep Bench

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    Beyond the starting lineup, the Buckeyes really don't have a lot to scare opposing teams.

    Shannon Scott, who shot 28 percent this season and went 1-of-4 against the Bearcats, isn't the biggest help and he got the most minutes off the bench by far (16).

    Ohio State has been able to get away with leaving its starting five on the floor most of the tournament.

The Gators Are Outrebounding Teams

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    Florida was ranked 135th in the nation in rebounding during the regular season.

    But the Gators have rebounded the ball much better in the NCAA tournament, getting strong performances from Patric Young and Erik Murphy.

    After collecting 40 rebounds against Norfolk State, Florida racked up 39 boards against Marquette.

Florida Has Amped Up Its Defense

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    Florida wasn't a particularly good defensive team headed into the NCAA tournament. The Gators were ninth in the SEC in scoring defense.

    But the Gators have seriously turned it on in the NCAA tournament.

    Florida is allowing 51 points per game through three tournament matchups, and just held high-scoring Marquette to 58 points on 30 percent shooting. Marquette stars Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom combined to go 10-of-30 from the floor.

Baylor's Talent Masks Its Inconsistency

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    The stat sheet from Baylor's game against No. 10 seed Xavier adequately represents the Bears' talent.

    The Bears shot 50 percent from the floor, outrebounded the Musketeers and had four players score in double figures.

    But the fact of the matter is, Baylor let Xavier hang around. Xavier got to the free-throw line 24 times. For such an athletic team, Baylor can be had in the interior.

    Nonetheless, Baylor has made it into the Elite Eight anyway. This team can be so explosive and athletic scoring the basketball and on the glass that it tends to get away with its inconsistency.

Florida Is a Tough Team

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    When Florida lost forward Will Yeguete to injury in February, it left the Gators without their best rebounder and post defender.

    In that sense, there was concern that the loss of Yeguete would make them a softer team.

    Not so fast. The frontcourt of Patric Young and Erik Murphy has been dynamic and the Gators have been able to cruise without much depth in the low post.

    Marquette prided itself in being a physical, in-your-face basketball team. Perhaps what was most impressive about Florida's win was the Gators weren't outmuscled and showed a tremendous amount of resiliency.

Billy Donovan Continues to Get It Done

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    It's no coincidence that the Florida Gators and Louisville Cardinals are meeting up in the Elite Eight.

    Why?

    Because they are coached by Billy Donovan and Rick Pitino, respectively.

    Donovan has won two national championships and three regional championships during his coaching career. He's put trust in guards Erving Walker, Kenny Boynton and Bradley Beal, and made Will Yeguete's loss look like a mirage. He has the Gators playing their best defense of the season and the scary thing is, this team hasn't even shown what it can truly do on offense yet.

Perry Jones Is Back

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    Perry Jones, a potential lottery pick in the NBA draft, didn't show up for Baylor's first two NCAA tournament games.

    Against Xavier, he finally came alive, finishing with 14 points on 7-of-8 shooting and grabbing five rebounds.

    Jones still isn't rebounding as well as he should given his athleticism, but he's starting to score the basketball and he added a block and a steal against the Musketeers.

North Carolina Misses Kendall Marshall

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    It's safe to say North Carolina didn't play well together without Kendall Marshall.

    Stilman White and P.J. Hairston combined to go 1-of-8 from the floor and the Tar Heels were never in sync against No. 13 seed Ohio. They committed 23 turnovers as a team.

    After the game, head coach Roy Williams said he didn't know if Marshall would be able to go in the Elite Eight. That could spell trouble for a team that used to be a clear-cut favorite to make it to the national championship game.

Baylor's Frontcourt Gives It a Chance Against Kentucky

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    If Perry Jones can continue playing the way he did against Xavier and Quincy Acy continues dominating, Baylor at least has a shot against Anthony Davis and Co., which is more than you can say about a lot of teams in the country.

    After collecting 10 rebounds against Colorado, Acy erupted for 20 points and 15 rebounds against Xavier.

    Baylor is going to need that against Kentucky in the Elite Eight.

Tyler Zeller Is UNC's Saving Grace Right Now

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    You could make the argument that Kendall Marshall has been North Carolina's most valuable player, given the way UNC struggled against Ohio.

    But right now, Tyler Zeller is undoubtedly North Carolina's saving grace.

    Zeller was a major reason North Carolina survived in the Sweet 16, posting 20 points, 23 rebounds and five blocks. He did have six turnovers, but he was constantly double-teamed. His effort on the glass led the Tar Heels to a 55-27 advantage in rebounding.

Pierre Jackson Can Compete with the Big Boys

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    Baylor point guard Pierre Jackson faced a daunting challenge in the Sweet 16, matched up against Xavier's star, Tu Holloway.

    Holloway had a spectacular game, as expected, but Jackson held his own, scoring 16 points and dishing out 10 assists.

    When Jackson can score and move the ball like that, Baylor is a scary team.

James Michael McAdoo Can Fill Harrison Barnes' Shoes

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    Even when Harrison Barnes shot an uncharacteristic 3-of-16 and committed five turnovers against Ohio, James Michael McAdoo only received 11 minutes on the court.

    But McAdoo, a potential lottery pick if he declares for the NBA draft, always seems to make the most of his minutes.

    In 11 minutes against Ohio, McAdoo posted six points, two rebounds, one assist and one steal. When he got big minutes against Vermont in the Round of 64, McAdoo exploded for 17 points, six rebounds and four steals.

    Keep in mind, McAdoo is just a freshman.

Baylor Is Staying Under Control

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    In three NCAA tournament games, Baylor is averaging 11.3 turnovers per game.

    This isn't among the best in the land, obviously, but it isn't a bad figure, especially given Baylor has been known to have some off games.

    If Baylor can continue to limit its turnovers with the talent it has, who knows what can happen.

Reggie Bullock Can Be Counted on with Marshall Out

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    Off-guard Reggie Bullock stepped up when North Carolina needed him to step up against Ohio.

    The sophomore scored 17 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and dished five assists in Kendall Marshall's absence. He also hit a huge three-pointer for North Carolina with 42 seconds remaining.

    UNC's backcourt is still concerning, but Bullock certainly isn't part of the problem.

North Carolina Is Not Much of a Team Without Kendall Marshall

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    Maybe we've been fooled all this time.

    Maybe North Carolina hasn't really been a team this year in the very sense of the word.

    With Marshall out against Ohio, Harrison Barnes struggled mightily, John Henson didn't dominate the way you would expect and the Tar Heels committed 23 turnovers.

    Real teams (like Syracuse, for example) find a way to pull out strong wins despite losing a critical component. North Carolina didn't appear to have a backup plan against the Bobcats.

Kentucky Can Win When Anthony Davis Struggles

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    When Indiana beat Kentucky on Dec. 10, it was one of the few teams that was able to get Anthony Davis in foul trouble.

    So when Indiana did the same in the Sweet 16, you wondered if the Hoosiers would strike again.

    But Kentucky locked down, despite not having Davis for most of the first half, getting spectacular performances from Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Doron Lamb and bench guard Darius Miller.

    This team dominates even when Davis struggles. Now that's scary.

Thomas Robinson Only Rivaled by Anthony Davis

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    Realistically, the Kansas Jayhawks haven't played up to their potential in their last two games.

    In that sense, Kansas would have been long gone if it wasn't for Thomas Robinson.

    Robinson has been an absolute beast the whole season, including in the NCAA tournament, and he posted 18 points and 15 rebounds against N.C. State.

    He's a player you build a team around...and that includes in the NBA.

Kentucky Is Getting Better as Tourney Progresses

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    You wouldn't think there was much room for the No. 1 team in the nation to improve.

    But when Kentucky dropped 102 points on Indiana in the Sweet 16, despite getting just nine points from Anthony Davis, that was a warning call to the rest of college basketball.

    Five Wildcats scored 12 points or more, led by freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and they went 35-of-37 from the free-throw line.

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist Will Be Just Fine in the NBA

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    Who knows if Michael Kidd-Gilchrist declares for the NBA draft this year, but, if he does, he's a legit top-five pick.

    Kidd-Gilchrist is an elite athlete, with a never-ending motor, who is a great rebounder, defender and finisher at the rim. The only thing he needs to work on is his perimeter game.

    The freshman scored 24 points and grabbed 10 rebounds against Indiana while going 7-of-15 from the field and 10-of-10 from the line.

    Did I mention the big stage doesn't bother him?

Tyshawn Taylor Is Struggling

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    Tyshawn Taylor was supposed to be the Jayhawks' second-best player this season, but he's not playing like it in the tournament.

    Taylor did grab 10 rebounds and dish five assists against N.C. State, but he also committed five turnovers and went 2-of-14 from the floor.

    This was after Taylor went 4-of-11 from the field against Purdue.

    If Kansas has any shot against North Carolina, Taylor is going to have to step up.

John Calipari Has Kentucky Playing Within Itself

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    Some people may say it's easy to win a national championship with so many future pros.

    But the fact of the matter is, with so many future pros, you have plenty of room for players to play selfishly or want more minutes.

    Kentucky doesn't have that, and Calipari has the Wildcats humming like a well-oiled machine. Kentucky isn't just the most talented team in the country. The Wildcats may be playing the best together.

Jeff Withey Is Kansas' X-Factor

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    Junior center Jeff Withey was averaging 3.3 blocks coming into the NCAA tournament.

    In the NCAA tournament, Withey has amassed 17 blocks in three games, including 10 against N.C. State in the Sweet 16.

    When you have that kind of post presence, paired with Thomas Robinson, it's no wonder you can survive scoring droughts from your star point guard.

Kentucky Will Only Lose If It Beats Itself

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    I'm convinced: Kentucky will only lose if it beats itself.

    The Wildcats have scoring, rebounding, interior defense, an impact bench player, drive and an historic coach. It's hard to beat that.

    I mean, this team racked up 102 points with its best player, Anthony Davis, scoring nine points. That's just unfair.

    This may as well be a NBA team.

Kansas Doesn't Have to Shoot Well to Win in the Tourney

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    Kansas shot 37 percent against N.C. State and 33 percent against Purdue, yet won both games.

    Surely, North Carolina is going to be a much tougher challenge in the Elite Eight, but Kansas has proven it's more than just a team that averaged 75 points in the regular season.

Kansas Can Beat North Carolina

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    Just a week ago, I would have told you Kansas had no shot against North Carolina.

    But despite a rough performance from Kansas against N.C. State, the fact of the matter is, North Carolina isn't exactly playing great ball either.

    Without its star point guard, Kendall Marshall, the Tar Heels were almost upset by No. 13 seed Ohio in the Sweet 16. They had to get it done in overtime to come away with the victory.

    Tyshawn Taylor has the ability to be a difference-maker on the floor. Against North Carolina, he may not even have to match up with Marshall. That would be a huge advantage Kansas should exploit. Taylor needs to be on his game in the Elite Eight.

     

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