Kansas coach Bill Self talks to reporters following the Jayhawks' 60-57 victory over N.C. State in the Sweet 16 on March 23, 2012.
KU players Thomas Robinson and Jeff Withey talk to reporters following the Jayhawks' 60-57 victory over N.C. State on March 23, 2012.
N.C. State's Mark Gottfried, C.J. Leslie and Scott Wood talk to reporters following their 60-57 loss to Kansas on March 24, 2012.
St. Louis During the past three months, North Carolina State’s men’s basketball team has faced the two teams left standing in the Midwest Regional of this year’s NCAA Tournament a combined four times.
That kind of makes the Wolfpack players well suited to break down Sunday’s Elite Eight showdown between top-seeded North Carolina and second-seeded Kansas, which knocked off N.C. State, 60-57, Friday at Edward Jones Dome.
“It’s pretty much just gonna be a battle,” junior center DeShawn Painter said of the KU-UNC game. “Kansas’ front line is big. North Carolina’s front line is big. So it’s gonna be a match-up of big guys in the paint.”
While the importance of the paint was universally emphasized in the N.C. State locker room following the game, the NCSU players were not able to agree fully upon which team would have the advantage Sunday.
Some, such as Painter, believe North Carolina has too much firepower for Kansas, which typically plays just seven guys.
“I think Carolina has the upper hand,” Painter said. “They’re just deeper. If Thomas Robinson and the other big kid (KU center Jeff Withey) get into foul trouble, it could be tough for them.”
During Friday’s Sweet 16 victory against the Wolfpack, the Jayhawks played eight guys, but that included sophomore forward Justin Wesley, who logged just two minutes.
The Tar Heels, meanwhile, also played eight guys in their 73-65 victory against Ohio, which helped set up the fifth NCAA Tournament meeting between KU and UNC but the first to take place outside of the Final Four.
However, UNC’s rotation did not include injured point guard Kendall Marshall, who missed the game because of a wrist injury that required surgery earlier in the week.
Whether Marshall will play Sunday is up in the air and no doubt will be the source of a good chunk of today’s media sessions. But the biggest question floating around St. Louis also serves as a tipping point for the Elite Eight showdown, according to the N.C. State crew.
“Well, it will be a great game,” N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried said. “Two great teams, two teams with great size, both well coached. North Carolina’s obviously a little different if Kendall Marshall doesn’t play, but it will be a great game. We’re just disappointed we’re not in it.”
Asked why Marshall’s presence would be so important, N.C. State guard Alex Johnson pointed to the way KU guards Tyshawn Taylor and Elijah Johnson controlled the pace of play despite not playing their best games statistically. The N.C. State reserve said he also was impressed with the way the Tar Heels fought off an upset-minded Ohio squad, but did not seem so sure that the same type of effort would be enough to knock off Kansas.
“They did a good job out here tonight, playing against Ohio,” Alex Johnson said of North Carolina. “But Kansas is a whole different breed than Ohio.”
Friday’s loss was close on the scoreboard mostly because of a late N.C. State surge. Otherwise, Kansas held NCSU at arm’s length for most of the second half.
“They’re both two tough teams,” Johnson said. “I don’t think either one is tougher than the other. I think Kansas’ guards are a little better, especially if North Carolina has to play without Kendall Marshall. But it’ll be a good game.”