During the ACC Tournament and through the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament, the majority of the attention paid to the North Carolina Tar Heels has been focused on Ty Lawson's right big toe.
Lawson injured the toe in a win over Duke on March 8, and then missed three games, including a loss to Florida State in the ACC Tournament and the Tar Heels opening round game against No. 16 seed Radford.
If North Carolina plans to make the Final Four and achieve their goal of winning a title, it is clear that Lawson must be healthy. This was made evident in the second half of Carolina's win over LSU, as Lawson scored 21 points while making zero turnovers, keying an 11-0 run that gave UNC the lead for good.
While Lawson is an important piece of the puzzle, he is just one piece. If the Tar Heels want to make a run, they will need a healthy Lawson, but just as importantly, improved play from Senior forward Danny Green.
Green is having the best season of his career, averaging over 13 points while shooting 41 percent from the field, and taking down nearly five rebounds per game. Unfortunately for the Heels, this hasn't carried over to the postseason, where Green has had four of his worst games of the year.
In the two ACC and two NCAA Tournament games, Green has mustered a total of 32 points while averaging 30.5 minutes per game. He is just 3-for-19 from behind the three-point line (15.8 percent) and has just five assists. In the two ACC Tournament games, he shot a total of 3-for-25 from the field, totaling just nine points.
The Tar Heels can win without Green, as evidenced by their second half run against LSU where Green contributed just one three-pointer, but it won't be easy going forward.
Another key to the Tar Heels success will be Coach Roy Williams. Williams is a hall of fame coach, and knows everything there is about winning. But, taking the risk of being too obvious here, his decisions will be key in whether UNC can overcome any adversity that they will inevitably face.
Not to dig up bad memories, but some may remember that in the national semifinal against Kansas, the Heels got down big early. At the 13:34 mark of the first half, Deon Thompson scored to make it 15-10 Kansas. Six minutes later, following a 23-2 Kansas run to make it 38-12, Williams finally called a timeout.
How Williams allowed play to go on that long without stopping the momentum is still mind boggling nearly one year later. It does not appear that anything has changed, however, as just this past Saturday against LSU, the Tigers came out of halftime and erased a nine-point deficit with a 13-3 run before Williams finally called a timeout.
It goes without saying that the Tar Heels have some tough opponents ahead of them, as Gonzaga and the winner of Syracuse/Oklahoma await them this weekend. All three of these teams are very capable of going on big runs and Williams needs to stop them before it gets out of hand, rather than waiting for the Heels to give up the lead.
In addition to managing the game properly, another thing to keep an eye on will be Coach Williams' use of his bench. He did an excellent job against LSU, essentially using just seven players for the majority of the game.
Freshman center Ed Davis has shown why he was a McDonald's All-American in high school, and has earned the playing time he is currently receiving. Senior point guard Bobby Frasor has played well filling in for Ty Lawson, and will need to manage the game while Lawson gets his rest.
Hopefully Williams knows that should be it. Guard Larry Drew II and forward Tyler Zeller, both freshmen, are very good basketball players who will be key players on UNC next year. Next year is the key to that last sentence. These two will gain valuable experience by being a part of this tournament team, but should do so by watching from the bench for the majority of the games.
In short, Lawson must be healthy (or at least play like he is), Danny Green must step up, and Roy Williams needs to use his timeouts and his bench wisely. The final important factor in the Tar Heels' march towards Detroit is for those who have played well to keep doing so.
Tyler Hansbrough and Wayne Ellington have been outstanding so far in postseason play, averaging 22 points per game each in the four games. Hansbrough's physical play in the post and ability to draw fouls will be important against big men Josh Heytvelt of Gonzaga and Blake Griffin of Oklahoma, and Ellington's ability to hit the tough shots and big threes will be critical against the zone defense of Syracuse.
If the Tar Heels play the way they are capable of, nothing should be able to stand in their way of a second trip to Ford Field this season.