From the start of the NCAA tournament, North Carolina has been one of the heavy favorites to go all the way. They have talent, experience, a good bench, and Roy Williams—all good ingredients for a winning team.
On Saturday, they defeated LSU to advance to the Sweet 16 where they will face off against Gonzaga.
They won with Ty Lawson playing primarily on one foot. The biggest question for UNC is how effective can Lawson be with his toe injury?
Luckily, his teammates have picked up the slack since he's been hurt, especially Wayne Ellington.
Ellington scored 23 points against LSU, had four assists, two steals, one block, and four boards. Lawson still put up good numbers despite leaving the game in the first half to deal with his toe injury, and then returned for the second half (23 points, two rebounds, six assists, and two steals).
However, the Tarheels know that Lawson isn't going to be able to carry the team, and therefore others are going to have to step it up.
In order for North Carolina to win against some of the better teams in the tournament like Syracuse, Pittsburgh, and Louisville, they are going to have to fire on all cylinders.
Lawson is the x-factor for UNC, and the better he does, the better the team does. Even if he is unable to score as many points as usual, his mere presence on the court is very valuable to his team.
The teams in the Big East have thus far proved to be the most physical in the conferences. If North Carolina wants to keep advancing in the tournament, they are going to have to start getting physical, and that all starts with Tyler Hansbrough.
Hansbrough has to make his presence known down low much like DeJuan Blair of Pittsburgh and Blake Griffin of Oklahoma. He needs to be blocking shots, laying in easy baskets, and grabbing as many boards as possible.
It also doesn't hurt that Hansbrough is an 84% free throw shooter, so the more he can get himself to the line the better for the team.
The bench is going to need to be more productive. While they have been solid for most of the season, against LSU the bench only scored nine points, and they all came from Ed Davis. Those guys are going to need to make the most of their minutes especially with Lawson not at 100 percent.
UNC definitely has the ability to go all the way in this tournament. While their bench is relatively experienced, it is definitely their weakness, and they are going to need to turn that around.
Tyler Hansbrough has to become a lot more physical for his team to be able to match up with a team like Syracuse or Pittsburgh. His strength is his ability at the line, so he has to make sure he gets himself there.
The best possible scenario would be that Lawson is at his best, but in the event that he's not everyone else is going to have to step up to compensate.
First, they have to get past Gonzaga, and if they're able to do that, they're just one step closer to the prize.