Kendall Marshall coaches from the bench after a broken right wrist kept him out of action in the Tar Heels' Elite Eight loss to Kansas.
By most accounts, the University of North Carolina's men's basketball team had a successful 2011-12 season.
The Tar Heels (32-6) won the ACC regular season title, advanced to the ACC tournament final and played Kansas down to the wire in the Elite Eight round of the 2012 NCAA Tournament.
The Tar Heels also placed three players—Harrison Barnes, John Henson, and conference player of the year, Tyler Zeller—on the All-ACC first team. However, not one of those players was the team's MVP.
That distinction goes to North Carolina's point guard and All-ACC second-teamer, Kendall Marshall.
UNC's Hopes Dashed With Marshall's Broken Wrist
The NCAA tournament's overall No. 2 seed Tar Heels seemed to be on a collision course for a much-awaited rematch of the regular season's best game in a title match with the Kentucky Wildcats heading into the tournament.
UNC coasted to victories over Vermont and Creighton during opening weekend, however, late in Carolina's third round victory against Creighton, Marshall fell hard to the floor and broke a small bone in his right wrist.
Marshall's absence was noticeable in the Tar Heel's overtime Sweet Sixteen victory over Ohio and solidified his status as the team's most important player.
Who was Carolina's most important player this season?
UNC could not push the ball up the court as they had all season without Marshall's Jason Kidd-like vision and court-length passes to his running big men.
UNC's freshman reserve point guard, Stillman White, played admirably—13 assists and zero turnovers in his two starts—after being thrust into a starting role in St. Louis last weekend.
However, the Wilmington, NC native plays without Marshall's rare, God-given vision and court awareness, and he was ineffective at getting the Tar Heels into fast break situations and feeding the ball to his big men for easy scores in the paint.
Still, UNC stayed within striking distance of the Jayhawks for the first 37 minutes until Kansas closed the game on a 12-0 run on their way to an 80-67 victory.
Without Marshall's superior composure and court savvy, the Tar Heels were a shell of their normal selves, and his absence showed most glaringly in the closing minutes of their loss to the Kansas Jayhawks in last weekend's Elite Eight.
With Marshall, UNC may have been able to get by the tough and athletic Jayhawks, but without their point guard, leader and unofficial team MVP, their realistic chance to play for the national title vanished before they boarded the buses to leave Greensboro.
Big Four to Turn Pro
After losing to Kansas in the Elite Eight last weekend, UNC's top four players each declared their eligibility for the 2012 NBA Draft on Thursday.
Zeller, the team's 7'0" center and the only senior in the group, was the ACC's 2011-12 Player of the Year.
Which of the Big Four will have the best NBA career?
Barnes, a sophomore and UNC's leading scorer (17.1 point per game) is widely considered the most talented player in the group. However, his stock plummeted, if only among Tar Heel fans, throughout the postseason, as he played poorly in pivotal moments down the stretch.
Henson, a 6'11 shot blocker extraordinaire who returned this year for his junior season, may have the best NBA potential of the group and will join this teammates as a likely lottery pick.
Marshall, the ACC's all-time assist leader in just two seasons and an automatic double-double in scoring and assists, has a game reminiscent of a young Jason Kidd and may be the hardest Tar Heel to replace.
High Hopes for Heels in 2013
Despite UNC's attrition to the NBA, Roy Williams' team should be loaded and primed to dominate the ACC and make a repeat run deep into the postseason in 2012.
Freshman forward James Michael McAdoo will be the Tar Heels' top returning player if he returns for a second year in Chapel Hill, and sharp shooter, Reggie Bullock, should have plenty of scoring opportunities on the wing.
And fortunately for Tar Heels fans, the nation's top high school point guard, Marcus Paige, will dress in Carolina Blue when North Carolina's basketball season tips off again in the fall.