(2) North Carolina vs. (4) Kentucky
Senior NBA & College Basketball Editor
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(2) North Carolina Tar Heels
One of the reasons why few people believed that the Marquette Golden Eagles had a chance to advance deep into the tournament was because of their nontraditional lineup that was lacking in size. However, it wasn’t until they ran into the North Carolina Tar Heels that they were truly exposed in that area. The trio of John Henson, Tyler Zeller and Harrison Barnes were once again spectacular, strengthening their case to be touted as the best frontline in the tournament. They combined to score 61 points, grab 33 rebounds and block seven shots against Marquette, who simply couldn’t match up with them. North Carolina’s team defense was really stellar, holding the Golden Eagles to 36% shooting from the bench and 12% from deep while forcing 18 turnovers. In the Elite Eight against the Kentucky Wildcats the Tar Heels will need to be just as good defensively against a team that is perimeter oriented just like the Golden Eagles. Their frontline also has to be dominant again and keep Kentucky’s bigs in foul trouble.
(4) Kentucky Wildcats
Kentucky Wildcat freshmen Brandon Knight came in with impossible shoes to fill, but has done as good of a job as his head coach John Calipari could ask for. He didn’t have his best night from the field as he was just 3-10, but just like against Princeton in the tournament opener he came up with the game-winning bucket to send the Wildcats to the Elite Eight. Despite being well-defended with nine seconds left, Knight nailed a mid-range jumper after Cal put his trust in him to make the right play by not calling a timeout. While Knight will go down as the hero, the Wildcats wouldn’t be alive still if it wasn’t for the stellar play of senior big man Josh Harrellson. Jared Sullinger is an unstoppable monster who of course got his, but Harrellson stood toe-to-toe with him with 17 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks. Fellow upperclassmen DeAndre Liggins was also huge for UK, scoring 15 points off of the bench. The Wildcats defended the three better than any team has against Ohio State in the tournament, holding them to 6-16 from deep. Against North Carolina UK has to hold down the paint and find a way to slow down the big three of Zeller, Barnes and Henson offensively.
HOOPSWORLD’s Pick: North Carolina. This is one of the best coaching jobs Coach Cal has done in his illustrious career, but the frontline of UNC is playing just too good right now to pick against. Like all games at this stage, it’s a complete and total coin flip.