North Carolina Basketball: How Loss of Marshall Doomed Heels' Title Hopes

Eric EdwardsContributor IIIMarch 27, 2012

Marshall coaches 'em up vs. Kansas.
Marshall coaches 'em up vs. Kansas.Andy Lyons/Getty Images

I had to wait a few days before writing this, because as a Tar Heels fan, I was sorely disappointed by the loss to Kansas in St. Louis. What was just a few short years ago the scene of one of Roy Williams's greatest victories became the burial ground of this current (now past) season.

I honestly didn't expect Carolina to beat Kansas on Sunday, but as they got the game to the three-minute mark with the ball and a chance to take a late lead, the magnitude of missing Kendall Marshall really set in. Instead of scoring a basket to take the lead, the Heels turned the ball over, had a shot blocked and then had another turnover, taking a one-point deficit into a 12-point loss.

Carolina's chances to actually win the title were destroyed the moment that Kendall Marshall broke his wrist in the Round of 32 game against Creighton.

The Ohio game was the warning bell that signalled that UNC was going to have serious trouble if they were able to advance to the Elite Eight. Against a team that obviously lacked the talent to compete with the Heels, North Carolina was lucky to find themselves in overtime against the Bobcats. They had good stretches in the first half against Ohio, but their half court offense was simply not efficient, and they turned the ball over way too often.

While Stillman White and Justin Watts did an adequate job in getting Carolina past the Bobcats, it was obvious that adequate would not be enough to get by Kansas.

In the game against Kansas, the lack of Marshall's ability to get the Heels into and out of the proper half court sets was on display for the entire game, but especially in the last few minutes of the game. When Carolina was in desperate need of a basket, the Heels were never able to get the ball to the right players at the right time. Roy Williams spoke to that on Monday night on his Roy Williams Live radio show.

A dejected Stillman White after the loss to Kansas
A dejected Stillman White after the loss to KansasDilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Williams admitted that in the last few minutes of that game, his team panicked in a way that he had never seen them before. He related that on back-to-back possessions he called plays that were supposed to run through John Henson, but the ball each time was passed to Tyler Zeller. Now, it is not a bad thing to get the ball to the ACC Player of the Year; however, it is a bad thing when he gets the ball in positions where he is not able to do anything with it.

I am not saying that Carolina would have won with a healthy Kendall Marshall at the point against Kansas. Bill Self is a fine coach with a national title on his resume, so beating them was not assured.  His switch to the triangle-and-two defense late in the game, and his ability to disguise it was a key turning point in the game and one of the best strategic moves made by any coach in the tournament.

What I am saying is that it is inconceivable to me that with a healthy Marshall on the floor that Carolina would have gone nearly eight minutes without a basket. Having someone to get the ball to the right players at the right time could have been the difference between losing in St. Louis and moving on to the Big Easy.

We'll never know how the game would have turned out if Marshall had played, but it isn't a stretch to believe that the outcome may have been very different.