Roy Williams and the North Carolina Tar Heels were quite bitten and smitten by the injury bug this season, and it finally caught up to them in the Elite Eight against the Kansas Jayhawks.
The Tar Heels lost to Rock Chalk Jayhawk 80-67, as Kansas moves on to face Jared Sullinger and Ohio State in the Final Four down in New Orleans.
Not only did guards Leslie McDonald and Dexter Strickland bite the dust to devastating knee injuries this season, but John Henson was banged up with wrist and knee malaises.
However, the straw (or wrist) that finally broke the camel’s back—along with Carolina’s title hopes—was that of dynamic point guard Kendall Marshall. Even with that said, Marshall’s absence wasn’t the only reason why Carolina lost to Kansas; it was simply one of a handful.
Here's the list.
In the understatement of this year’s NCAA tournament, North Carolina didn’t get to the 2012 Final Four because they didn’t have Kendall Marshall on the floor.
As admirably as little-known freshman Stilman White played in Marshall’s absence in Carolina’s last two games, it’s safe to say the Tar Heels missed Marshall’s presence in their loss to Kansas.
Despite not turning over the ball in the regional finals, White was an offensive non-factor against Kansas. That’s why Jayhawks' head coach Bill Self implemented a triangle-and-two defense in the second half, daring White to shoot from the parameter.
He didn’t, and when he elected to drive in for a shot late in the game, it was swatted away for a successful Kansas fast break, which essentially iced the game.
It’s safe to say if a healthy Marshall played in this game, Carolina would’ve been the ones cutting down the nets in St. Louis.
In the first half, when Kansas elected to play tight man-to-man defense, North Carolina ate them up. Players like Harrison Barnes and James Michael McAdoo beat them off the ball, and the Heels shot lights out from the field.
In the second half, however, Kansas sagged off Carolina in a triangle-and-two defense, allowing the action to come to them. As a result, the Heels shot a meager 22 percent from the field and allowed the Jayhawks to score the game’s last 12 points en route to an 80-67 win.
As much as basketball experts like to preach about playing stout defense, you still need to put the ball through the cylinder at the end of the day to win. Carolina simply didn’t do that enough in the second half against Kansas.
As inept as the North Carolina Tar Heels were from the field in the second half of the Midwest regional final against Kansas, they were even worse from three-point range the entire game.
Carolina never lit it up from beyond the arc this season, and it showed against Kansas, as the Heels were a pathetic 2-of-17 from downtown in their 80-67 loss in St. Louis.
Obviously, Carolina’s bread and butter comes from the inside and guys like Tyler Zeller and John Henson.
Still, if the likes of Harrison Barnes, Reggie Bullock and PJ Hairston were able to nail down a couple of more three-balls, you get the sense that Carolina would’ve had the balance they needed to get to New Orleans and the Final Four.
One glaring weakness in this season’s North Carolina squad was the fact that their team defense faltered at times. It once again faltered against the Kansas Jayhawks—especially at the wrong time.
Not only did Carolina surrender 47 points to Kansas in the first half, they allowed the Jayhawks to score the game’s final 12 points. One major reason for this was the Tyshawn Taylor-Stilman White mismatch.
Even without nailing a single trey, Taylor was still able to score a game-high 22 points against White and company. Simply put, White didn’t have the size, speed or experience needed to stop a dynamic point guard like Taylor.
Hence, Carolina’s defense failed to get big stops throughout the entire game.
Roy Williams and North Carolina could’ve used another one of Tyler Zeller’s 20-point, 22-rebound games against Kansas. Unlike the Ohio game, Zeller was held in check against the stout Jayhawk front-court duo of Thomas Robinson and Jeff Withey.
Zeller finished the game against Kansas with a modest 12 points, six rebounds and exactly zero attempts from the charity stripe. That’s simply unacceptable for a player of Zeller’s size and caliber.
With fellow low-post player John Henson nicked up with wrist and ankle injuries and Zeller held in check, Carolina simply wasn’t able to match what the Jayhawks were able to do inside throughout the game.
That’s a big (literally) part of why the Tar Heels aren’t moving on.