Sunday March 25th, 2012

No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 2 Kansas (5:05 p.m. ET)

This dreamy matchup of Dean Smith/Roy Williams-bred rivals took an unexpected turn with the teams' precarious states. Injury-ravaged North Carolina needed overtime to survive No. 13 seed Ohio in the Sweet 16, while Kansas barely held off 11th seed N.C. State (and 10th seed Purdue before that). It's hard to predict how either will fare against more formidable adversaries.

1) Will Kendall Marshall play? North Carolina's all-important point guard practiced Saturday for the first time since fracturing his right wrist last weekend against Creighton, but only in shooting drills and a non-contact walkthrough. Marshall remained optimistic he might play, but it doesn't seem likely. He said he struggled with catching and passing, his most important skill. Without him, freshman Stilman White will once again get the nod at point guard. While he performed modestly well against Ohio (32 minutes, six assists, no turnovers), North Carolina's offense in general looked hapless, committing a season-high 24 turnovers. "We were ugly because we didn't have Kendall," said Tar Heels coach Roy Williams. "Hopefully one game under our belt will help us not be as ugly."

2) Who wins the battle of the bigs? That Kansas has advanced to the Elite Eight despite miserable outside shooting, particularly from guard Tyshawn Taylor (0-of-12 on three-pointers), is a testament to the dominance of its frontcourt. Forward Thomas Robinson (17.7 ppg, 11.9 rebounds) is one of the finest players in the country, and 7-footer Jeff Withey (126 blocks) severely disrupts anyone who comes in the paint. But Carolina's 7-foot Tyler Zeller and 6-11 John Henson can match Kansas' size and then some. They're more disruptive defending the perimeter, while Kansas' pair is seen as a bit tougher inside. There's a good chance one gets the other in foul trouble.

3) Which Harrison Barnes shows up? North Carolina's ultra-athletic 6-9 forward is perpetually frustrating in his inconsistency. Against Ohio, he shot just 3-of-16 from the field, but came up big with a game-tying three-pointer late in regulation and five points in overtime. He shot 7-of-19 the game before that against Creighton, but was at his best in the ACC tournament final against Florida State (scoring 23 points) when he attacked the basket rather than settling for outside shots. If he can find his shot, Kansas doesn't have a perimeter player that can guard him, but Withey's presence may discourage Barnes from playing in the paint.

Prediction: Kansas 68, North Carolina 64

No. 1 Kentucky vs. No. 3 Baylor (2:20 p.m. ET)

1) Can Baylor crash the boards? The Bears are at their best when they maximize their considerable length, like they did Friday against Xavier, when 6-7 forward Quincy Acy grabbed 15 rebounds to go with his game-high 20 points. Perry Jones has been inconsistent, and perhaps more impactful as a long perimeter defender, but coach Scott Drew needs Acy, Jones and the rest of the Bears to be relentless rebounders to have a shot against Kentucky with 6-10 center Anthony Davis likely to alter shots and force his opponent to hope for second and third chances. Baylor is unlikely to attack Davis directly, but offensive rebounds could open up kick out opportunities to shooters like Brady Heslip.

2) Will Marquis Teague handle the pressure? It's probably a silly question at this point, since the Wildcats' freshman point guard has yet to implode in his first 37 starts, but this is Baylor's best chance to win a position mismatch. The underrated Pierre Jackson (13.6 points, 5.9 assists) is a sterling leader in the Bears' backcourt, and he figures to attack Teague on both ends of the court. The biggest challenge for Kentucky: There's no way to know exactly how Baylor will defend, as it's switched frequently between man and zone. But if Teague gets going in the transition game, it might not matter what the Bears do, as the Wildcats are near impossible to run with.

3) Will Heslip get his shots? It's no secret that Kentucky's one hint of weakness is its three-point defense. Indiana and Vanderbilt shot the lights out in handing John Calipari's teams its only defeats, and while the Hoosiers shot 52 percent in Friday's Sweet 16 rematch, it made just 5-of-18 from outside. Enter Heslip, the sophomore from Ontario who shoots a staggering 45.4 percent from beyond the arc. He made nine treys in an 80-63 rout of Colorado in the round of 32. But Heslip doesn't create many shots on his own; he's dependent on the Bears to get him the ball in open space. Kentucky defenders Terrance Jones and Dorron Lamb figure to get in Heslip's face whenever possible, so Baylor needs to keep him moving.

Prediction: Kentucky 92, Baylor 78

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