What: NCAA East Regional Semifinal
Where: Prudential Center, Newark, NJ
Records: UNC 28-7, Marquette 22-14
How They Got Here: UNC-at large bid, ACC regular season champion. MU-at large bid, finished 11th in Big East
NCAA Results: UNC-def. #15 LIU, #7 Washington. MU-def. #6 Xavier, #3 Syracuse
First up, check out the Q&A I did for the Marquette blog, Cracked Sidewalks.
It should be noted that with Duke having their "40-12" moment in the second half versus Arizona on Thursday night and being knocked out we can at least go into this game knowing Duke will not be winning the NCAA title this season. Of course it is always fun to advance at least one round past the Devils so taking care of business in this one would cap off a fine 24 hours for UNC fans everywhere.
Then again, what Arizona did stands as the cautionary tale for the Heels. No one, except Charles Barkley, gave Arizona a prayer versus Duke and for a half that proved to be a correct thought. Then Duke got rattled and Arizona would not be denied. The same thing could happen to UNC versus Marquette if the Heels are not careful to take care of business. The Golden Eagles have beaten enough good teams(including UConn) to make them as dangerous as any team UNC could play. At this stage, the playing field is somewhat level between most of the teams who are left.
Marquette is led by 16 ppg scorer guard Darius Johnson-Odom. Johnson-Odom is originally from Raleigh, NC and played basketball a scant few miles away from THF World Headquarters at Wakefield High School. That means UNC will be subjected to the "local kid phenomenon" where Jim Nantz will remind us no less than five times during the course of the game that Johnson-Odom is from Raleigh, may or may not have been a big UNC fan and is playing with a chip on his shoulder. Odom-Johnson is a 37% three point shooter this season after dropping a blistering 45% from beyond the arc last season. Through two NCAA Tournament games he is 7-13 from three. Yes, he is a mortal lock to go off on the Heels unless Dexter Strickland can keep him in check. A challenge for Harrison Barnes on the defensive end will be Jimmy Butler who averages 15.8 ppg and is the team's second leading rebounder 6.1 rpgs per game. Butler shoots 36% from three but only has 20 made threes this season. Barnes' defense continues to be impressive and at times he can lock a player down. This game could very well rest on how well Strickland and Barnes play on the defensive end.
On offense, UNC needs to pound the ball inside early and often. Marquette does not have the personnel to contain Tyler Zeller and John Henson boasting only one player of 6-8. Marquette is not a deep team though deeper than UNC in that they do play more than seven players. At this stage the depth issue is less of a concern given the number of timeouts called through the course of the game. To really control this game UNC will need a steady hand from Kendall Marshall to minimize turnovers and prevent easy baskets. Marquette will run if it has to but mainly prefers operating in the half court which is fine since I think UNC is better defensively when the other team is not pushing it up and down.
Setting aside the obvious possibility tournament wackiness could do the Heels in here, this is a game UNC should win. It will be incumbent on the Heels not to give Marquette any confidence by falling behind early but rather control the game from the start. Patience will be the key.
UNC 78 MU69