It could be, but first, those two ACC schools will need to get past their Sweet 16 foes.
First up is North Carolina. Just when they get one injured, impactful player back (John Henson), they lose another (Kendall Marshall). The Tarheels point guard plays just about every minute of every game, but surgery on his non-shooting wrist could keep him out on Friday night (he did have the cast removed on Wednesday). Head coach Roy Williams said the team is planning on playing without Marshall. UNC is expected to use the combination of Stillman White and Justin Watts, who average 11 minutes a game combined.
Marshall’s injury looms large because can White and Watts get the ball to their high-scoring trio of Henson, Harrison Barnes, and Tyler Zeller? Frustration on their part could lead to an exit from the Big Dance.
UNC will have to face the Cinderella of the tournament, Ohio, who beat Michigan and South Florida to advance to the Sweet 16. Granted, the Tarheels will be their toughest test. Yet the Bobcats play good defense, as they allow 62.3 points per game and opponents shoot just 29.7% from beyond the arc.
So far in the tournament, Ohio has been led by guard DJ Cooper, who scored 21 points against Michigan and 19 points against USF, and wingman Walter Offutt, who scored 11 points against Michigan but 21 points against USF. However if the game is close and comes down to free throw shooting, Ohio is in trouble. They shoot just 65.6% from the charity stripe.
Game time on Friday night is 7:45pm ET on TBS.
The winner of this game will face either a semi-Cinderella or a powerhouse. I call NC State a semi-Cinderella because of their low seeding (an 11), but they come from the ACC and many jumped on their bandwagon after their play in the ACC Tournament.
The Wolfpack seem to be putting it all together at the right time, as they’re getting production from everyone. The key will be sharp-shooter Scott Wood. When he makes at least four 3-pointers, NC State is 10-0. Another key for the Wolfpack is staying out of foul trouble. They only play about seven players and the bench so far has been able to keep them afloat.
The powerhouse team they will face is Kansas, who made a furious comeback to survive Purdue and advance. Kansas has been led in the tournament by Thomas Robinson’s usual double-double: he scored 16 points and hauled in 13 rebounds against Detroit and scored 11 points while hauling in 12 rebounds against Purdue.
The Jayhawks have also had a surprise step up, Elijah Johnson. The guard averaged 9.8 PPG during the regular season, but turned it on to score 15 points against Detroit and 18 points against Purdue.
They have needed all of that from Johnson, as Tyshawn Taylor is averaging just ten points in the tourney after averaging a little over 17 PPG during the regular season. Big man Jeff Withey has also been quiet.
For Kansas to advance, they need more of a well-balanced attack against NC State.
This game will follow UNC-Ohio on TBS at approximately 10:17 pm ET.
*For more from a Big XII standpoint, check out Amanda’s preview HERE.