What: NCAA Tournament Midwest Regional Semifinal
Where: Edward Jones Dome, St. Louis, MO
When: Friday, March 23rd, 7:47 PM
Records: UNC 31-5; Ohio 29-7
NCAA Results: UNC-def. #16 Vermont, #8 Creighton; Ohio-def. #4 Michigan, #12 South Florida
Different city, different player, same story.
The easiest approach to this game is the same as the one Roy Williams has been taking with the team which is to assume Kendall Marshall is not playing. If he does, great but my thinking all along has been to try and win this game without Marshall then see how things look on Sunday. UNC will face Ohio with Stillman White and Justin Watts running the point and we have little idea how well that will work against Ohio's defense which is ranked 45th in KenPom.
Even without Marshall UNC has the horses to take care of Ohio providing the offense can be executed with some semblance of organization and efficiency. The Tar Heels still have arguably the best front court in college basketball, a shooting guard who is really playing well on the offensive and defensive end plus a little chip on their shoulders. Lest we forget that UNC is very good defensive team. Marshall defense was not his strong suit so the drop off in that regard is probably not as steep as it is on the offensive end. If the Heels really lock Ohio down on the defensive end, they should also be able to muster enough points given the preferred tempo to win the game.
Despite having solid guard play, Ohio is not a lights out team from the perimeter. The Bobcats come in shooting 33.8% from three as a team and 48.3% from two. Much attention should be paid to Ohio PG D.J. Cooper who is playing some of his best basketball of the season right now. In his past five games(three in MAC Tourney, two in NCAA Tourney) Cooper is averaging 19.8 ppg and 6.2 apg. There is a good chance Cooper gets his or worse for UNC gets penetration and sets up his teammates after the defense collapses. Despite a lower team three point shooting percentage, Ohio does have two players hitting 36% or better from three. One is the team's second leading scorer Williams Offutt and the other is Nick Kellogg, the son of CBS basketball analyst Clark Kellogg. The junior Kellogg is hit 41% of this threes in 194 attempts from outside the arc. One of these will be Reggie Bullock's assignment, the other will likely fall to Harrison Barnes.
On the offensive end, UNC needs to feed the post early and often. Ohio lacks the size to contend with UNC on the interior with only two players 6-8 or taller playing significant minutes. Providing the Heels can run the offense well enough under White/Watts getting the ball inside shouldn't be an issue. Double teams are likely and not having Marshall available to knock down open threes will hurt some. Barnes, Bullock and P.J. Hairston will need to pick up the slack here and make Ohio's job of defending the interior a difficult by opening up the half court floor spacing. And while I expect tempo will be down a little, Roy is still going to demand UNC get out in transition as much as possible. In the limited time White has played since Dexter Strickland was injured, he seems to understand this and makes an effort to push the ball off defensive rebounds. White and Watts should still be able to do enough of it to keep UNC closer to a tempo of the Heels' liking than not.
This is a game UNC can still win without Marshall but in the NCAA Tournament there are no guarantees. Based on everything we have heard from the team this week, the players' approach and attitude won't be an issue. They are still in this thing to win a national title. Just because that task got more difficult doesn't mean they aren't going to still give their best in pursuit of that goal.
UNC 80 Ohio 69