NCAA Tournament 2011: Previewing North Carolina vs. Marquette Sweet 16 Matchup
Playing for the first time since the 1977 NCAA Championship, the No. 11 Marquette Golden Eagles will look to upset the No. 2-ranked North Carolina Tar Heels in the first game of the Sweet 16 at 7 p.m.
Will we see another upset for the second straight night?
The Tar Heels come into the matchup as six-point favorites against a surging, underrated Marquette team.
There are certain keys for both teams and players who will need to step up if they want to make the Elite Eight.
Whether or not Marquette can take down a tough Tar Heel team remains to be seen, but don't count them out just yet.
Here is a preview of the highly anticipated Sweet 16 matchup.
No. 2 North Carolina Tar Heels (28-7)
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After quickly knocking off No. 15 Long Island University 102-87 in the second round, North Carolina barely slid past No. 7 Washington for an 86-83 victory to move to their sixth Sweet 16 appearance since 2000.
The key for the Tar Heels will be getting inside and racking up rebounds on a smaller team like Marquette.
It could be an easy sail to the Elite Eight if everything goes to plan.
Look for UNC to try to shutdown the Golden Eagles early to stop any slight surge of a possible upset for head coach Roy Williams and his elite team.
No. 11 Marquette Golden Eagles (22-14)
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After defeating No. 6 Xavier by 11 points in the second round of the tournament, Marquette went on to upset the Orange Men of Syracuse in dramatic fashion for a 66-62 victory.
They will now play in their first Sweet 16 game since 2003.
Coming off a big upset win against No. 3 Syracuse could very easily prove to be big difference-maker in their matchup with UNC. The Golden Eagles can now truly believe they can take down any team in the tournament.
Look for Marquette to try to jump out to an early lead against North Carolina, hoping to catch the Tar Heels off guard quickly in the first half, where they could have a tough time catching up.
Harrison Barnes (UNC)
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Harrison Barnes has been everything the Tar Heels could ask for in a freshman.
At 6'8", 210 pounds, the "Black Falcon" is averaging 15.5 points and 5.7 rebounds per game during his first collegiate season at North Carolina.
Barnes has also already won numerous awards, including the 2011 ACC Rookie of the Year, and has been named to the 2011 All-ACC Freshman Team.
He came out strong in first two career tournament games over the past week, scoring 24 points on 16 rebounds and adding three assists against Long Island University in the second round of the tournament.
The freshman didn't stop there.
He posted 22 points against the Washington Huskies, and going 4-of-7 from behind the three-point arc.
Talk about leading a team as an 18 year old.
If UNC wants to put the Golden Eagles away early, Barnes will definitely need to do much of the same he has been doing all season and have another big game.
Darius Johnson-Odom (MU)
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Marquette junior Darius Johnson-Odom has lifted the Golden Eagles to their third straight 20-win season under third-year head coach Buzz Williams.
At 6'2", 215 pounds, Johnson-Odom is averaging 16 points, becoming the biggest force on offense for the surging Golden Eagles.
He has also had two big games to kick off the tournament as well, scoring 19 points and hitting 4-of-6 three pointers against No. 6-seeded Xavier, and putting up 17 points while adding four assists in the big win against Syracuse.
It's also hard not to forget the clutch three-pointer he hit with only 25 seconds remaining to cruise Marquette into the Sweet 16 over the tough Orange men.
What could be Johnson-Odom's best factor is his consistency, as he has put up double-digit points in 25 of his last 26 games, something that he will need to do once again against UNC.
North Carolina: Tournament Experience
Since Roy Williams began his coaching career at UNC, the Tar Heels have been one of the elite teams in not only the ACC, but in the entire NCAA.
Below are North Carolina's NCAA tournament runs over the past six years:
- 2005: 33-4 NCAA Champions
- 2006: 23-8 NCAA Second Round
- 2007: 31-7 NCAA Elite Eight
- 2008: 36-3 NCAA Final Four
- 2009: 34-4 NCAA Champions
- 2010: Missed NCAA tournament
- 2011: ???
After missing the NCAA tournament last season, the question that remains is: Can the Tar Heels make it to the top once again?
Marquette: Team Experience
While they haven't had the same kind of tournament experience as the Tar Heels, Marquette has experience playing some big tournament teams this past season.
Coming out of the Big East, the Golden Eagles played 10 games this year against teams that ended up as top-5 seeds in the tournament.
Here is a look at how Marquette fared in those games during the season:
- 82-77 loss to No. 1 Duke
- 69-64 loss to No. 4 Wisconsin
- 77-76 loss to No. 5 Vanderbilt
- 89-81 loss to No. 1 Pittsburgh
- 79-67 win vs. No. 2 Notre Dame
- 71-70 loss to No. 4 Louisville
- 80-75 loss to No. 2 Notre Dame
- 76-68 loss to No. 3 UConn
- 76-70 win vs. No. 3 Syracuse
- 74-67 win vs. No. 3 UConn
Not only did the Golden Eagles play in some close games against top-5 teams, but they beat three of them, including a big win against UConn, which has already reached the Elite Eight.
The big question that now remains for Marquette is: Will they have similar success against UNC tonight?
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If there is one team that could knock off the Tar Heels, it's Marquette, which still has enough fire in the tank to defeat UNC and move into the Elite Eight.
I honestly like their chemistry as a team, from Jae Crowder and Jimmy Butler to, of course, Johnson-Odom.
The Golden Eagles have what it takes to advance even further in the tournament.
It should be interesting to see how they handle North Carolina's inside pressure, where the Golden Eagles will need to stop UNC and get rebounds throughout the game.
One things for sure—I think we'll be seeing a lot of yellow jerseys huddled up and cheering after the Sweet 16 game tonight.
Prediction: Marquette over North Carolina, 76-70