Kansas Jayhawks forward Thomas Robinson shoots as North Carolina State Wolfpack guard/forward C.J. Williams trails during the first half of the semifinals in the midwest region of the 2012 NCAA men's basketball tournament.
It took until the Elite Eight for UNC to face an opponent who has a blog on SBNation, but here we are. Given this type of corporate synergy, I couldn't help but ask the bloggers at Rock Chalk Talk. They'll run their own interview with me later today; until then, here's the questions I asked them.
From the tone of Kansas's postgame interviews, you'd have thought that not only had N.C. State won, but the Wolfpack had stolen their girlfriends and kicked their pets, as well. With their recent shooting woes, what's the general mood of the team and their fans?
I guess I can't speak for the team other than the fact that I do believe they think they are a much more capable offensive team than they've shown lately. I think our confidence might be a bit shaky on that end of the court.
From a fan perspective I think we truly are grateful to have made it to this point and it's a little bit less pressure now heading into the Elite Eight. This team has completely overachieved when compared to expectations and that's always a fun thing as a fan. I think if Marshall were 100% healthy Kansas fans would probably head into this one thinking that UNC is a good team and let's see what we can do. With Marshall potentially out, there is a little more tendency to think that we might be able to pull out the win but by no means is anyone viewing the Tar Heels as anything less than the top seed in the region.
Where do you put Thomas Robinson in the pantheon of recent Kansas players? I hate to ask "How important is it that he have a big game?" - it's always important, duh - but how has he handled other elite big men?
I think Robinson's overall story at Kansas is one of the better ones during the Self era. That's what makes him such a memorable player. Whenever this thing ends he's going to be an All American, high on the POY list and he'll be drafted pretty high in the upcoming draft. He's going to have his jersey retired and a Final Four would really cap off his story in a big way.
To do that I absolutely think that it's critical that he have a big game on Sunday. Robinson has been a guy that can rise to the occasion as long as he plays within himself. When he tries to do too much it can be a detriment. But if he's motivated, focused and plays smart, he can play with anyone.
Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor pretty much take up all the media attention with this team (on the national level, at least). And understandably so, as they account for a vast majority of shots taken when they're on the floor. But we just saw last night how big a force Jeff Withey can be on defense, as he came within one block of tying Shaquille O'Neal's tournament record. Who else should we expect to be impressed by with this team?
I think any one of our starting five are capable of turning in an impressive performance. Elijah Johnson and Travis Releford are the other two and both have at times been very good. Johnson probably has more of a chance of turning heads offensively, but Releford has been our defender/glue guy. Think Haase from his playing days if you remember that time.
As a dutiful Tar Heel fan, I do spend a fair amount of time observing our rivals down the road. You too lost a game to the Blue Devils this season that you shouldn't have, if not nearly in a heartbreaking fashion as Carolina did. What happened, and how has the team improved since then to become the caliber of opponent they are today?
That seems like ages ago, but I think the biggest thing that we've improved on since then is that Tyshawn has been able to elevate his game to another level. Back in November/December he was still a bit erratic, it was Robinson's team and Tyshawn was a senior but not really blowing anyone away. He started doing that during conference play, Withey gained a lot of confidence during the Big 12 schedule and the little depth we have coming off the bench has developed with time as well. When we played Duke we were a one man team with a supporting cast of four or five. Now I'd say we're five strong with two to three that are capable of coming off the bench and contributing on some level.
Now all that said, Tyshawn has looked like the non-con Tyshawn in the tournament and we've had that same look offensively at times that we had during the non-con schedule. It will be interesting to see if that changes on Sunday. If it doesn't I think Kansas will have to make the game ugly to win.
And finally, how do you beat Kansas?
Limit Thomas Robinson, limit Kansas on the inside and force them to shoot jump shots. When that happens the Kansas offense can struggle. UNC has the horses down low to accomplish that so we'll see how the Jayhawks manage that. Offensively I don't expect Carolina to change anything that they've done all year, that's Roy, but Kansas will commit to help defense all over the court so knocking down the outside shot can be a pretty big step in the right direction offensively.