The No. 1-seeded Kansas Jayhawks will look to end the North Carolina Tar Heels' NCAA Tournament run for the second straight year on Sunday evening in Kansas City.
Meanwhile, Roy Williams' eighth-seeded Tar Heels will be aiming to avenge last year's 13-point loss to the Jayhawks in the Midwest Regional final in St. Louis. Kansas advanced to this weekend's round of 32 after surviving a scare from 16th-seeded Western Kentucky on Friday night, while North Carolina dodged a bullet of its own against ninth-seeded Villanova, blowing a 20-point first half lead, but holding on to win by the same seven-point margin as the Jayhawks.
Here we'll get you set with everything you need to know for this dream matchup in the round of 32.
Where: Sprint Center, Kansas City, Mo.
When: Sunday, March 24 at 5:15 p.m. ET
Live Streaming: March Madness Live
Betting Line: Kansas (-6), according to Covers.com.
Key Injuries (according to USA Today)
No significant injuries to report.
Kansas Player to Watch: Jeff Withey
The Jayhawks senior center was a force on the defensive end during Kansas' run to the National Championship Game in 2012, and already, he's made his presence felt in the 2013 NCAA Tournament.
Withey was dominant on the offensive end against Western Kentucky on Friday, scoring 17 points on 7-of-9 shooting from the field. But it was his ability to be disruptive on the defensive end of the court that paralyzed the Hilltoppers in the second half. Withey, who averages nearly four blocked shots per game this season, swatted seven away in the round of 64, proving to be the most impactful defensive player in the tournament thus far.
Don't expect Withey to pick up another half a dozen blocks on Sunday, as North Carolina is a perimeter-oriented team with very little inside game, but look for the 7-footer to be a difference maker in the paint, as the Tar Heels have no one who can match up with him on the interior.
North Carolina Player to Watch: P.J. Hairston
North Carolina's success on Sunday will hinge on the play of sophomore guard P.J. Hairston, who led the Tar Heels with 23 points against Villanova on Friday.
Hairston's ability to knock down a high percentage of long-range shots and get to the rim, either finishing or drawing contact and a foul, will be huge against Kansas. He's knocked down 11-of-21 3-pointers over North Carolina's last two games, and he's shooting 80 percent at the foul line over that time.
When Hairston is in rhythm and knocking down shots, he takes the pressure off of teammates Reggie Bullock and Marcus Paige, with the two combining to hit 5-of-10 3-pointers in the second round against Villanova.
Key Matchup: Kansas' Perimeter Defense vs. UNC Shooters
Sunday's game will be decided at the three-point line, where P.J. Hairston and North Carolina have been doing damage this season. The Jayhawks rank 28th in the country this season in three-point percentage (37.9) and 22nd in threes made (266).
That said, if Elijah Johnson, Ben McLemore and Kansas' guards can't close out on the Tar Heels' lethal outside shooters, we could have one of our biggest upsets thus far.
North Carolina's ability to catch fire from downtown makes it one of the most explosive offensive teams in the country, thus setting up Sunday's key stat: North Carolina is 18-1 this season when it scores at least 78 points. The Tar Heels have won eight straight games dating back to January when scoring at least 78 points.
So keep an eye on the scoreboard early on this weekend to see what sort of pace North Carolina's shooters are on. If the Tar Heels can drop 40 or more on Kansas in the first half, they'll likely be on their way to the Sweet 16 for the third straight year. Otherwise, this is a game Kansas should win.
Which team is the bigger threat in the South Region?
Although this game is a no-brainer if you're just going off seeding, North Carolina's strong play over the final third of the season is impossible to overlook. The Tar Heels have won nine of their last 11 games overall and possess the firepower to match the Jayhawks basket for basket.
But in a matchup of two elite offensive teams, I like the superior defensive team to survive.
While both teams rank towards the top of the nation in scoring, the Jayhawks are much better on the defensive end, holding teams to under 62 points per game this season, which ranks them inside the Top 50 nationally.
When Kansas gets a lead, it's usually safe, but the same can't be said for North Carolina, who blew a 20-point lead in the round of 64, letting Villanova come back into the game, and eventually take the lead momentarily in the second half.
In a game like this you've got to go with your gut, and though both teams are hot, the Jayhawks are much more trustworthy at this stage.
Kansas 77, North Carolina 68
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