Could Ohio make history thanks to Kendall Marshall’s wrist?
The venue: The 70,000-seat Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis Missouri. North Carolina fans should love this place: The Tar Heels beat out Illinois, 75-70, here in 2005 to capture their fourth NCAA Tournament National Championship. Ohio fans may have a 300-mile shorter commute, but that may not matter.
When: Friday, 7:47 p.m. EST. Watch on TBS.
How they got here: The 13th-seeded Bobcats, the lone MAC representative, got past No. 4 Michigan and No. 12 South Florida for their third-ever Sweet Sixteen appearance. The top-seeded Tarheels beat No. 16 Vermont and No. 8 Vermont to reach St. Louis.
Pomeroy: 83% in UNC’s favor, a number which cannot account for the loss of Kendall Marshall (more on that below).
History: Ohio is the reason that this game has historical implications. Not since 2006 has a 13-seed made it into the round of 16 (No. 13 Bradley lost to No. 1 Kentucky in the Sweet Sixteen that year, 80-64). Not since 1964 have the Bobcats gone this far (there was also 1960 before that), and not since 2002 has a MAC team reached the Elite Eight when Kent State polished off Oklahoma State, Alabama and Pittsburgh.
A mere 0.4% of Yahoo! brackets had Ohio making the Sweet Sixteen, and no 13-seed has ever made the Elite Eight. There’s your histoy.
5 reasons the Bobcats could take it:
1. Kendall Marshall’s status is still uncertain after a wrist injury during the second half of the Tarheel’s win over Creighton forced the sophomore starting point guard (and single-season ACC assists record-holder) to have surgery on his wrist Monday. Dexter Strickland has been struck from the roster since mid-January, so freshman Stillman White (4.2 mpg) and senior Justin Watts (6.8 mpg) will be relied on to takeover for Marshall’s team-leading 33 mpg if the phenom can’t play. Marshall’s assist rate (44.7 percent) is the third best in the nation; Watts’ (3.0 percent), um, isn’t.
2. The Bobcats seem unflappable in the face of pressure. They’ve scored 1.12 points per trip in their two tournament wins over higher seeds for an efficiency margin in the positive at +0.09. Besides, Walter Offutt, a former Ohio State reserve, has already faced plenty of high-major foes. “I’m not afraid of the [major-conference schools] at all,” Offutt told SI’s Stewart Mandel. “Been there, done that.”
3. Ohio has shown a knack for controlling the tempo. In their five games since the regular season the Bobcats have kept their opponents’ possession totals well under their season average. At 72.4 possessions per game (ninth in the nation), the Tarheels play vey fast. If Ohio can keep the pace slow, they’ll have the upper hand.
4. John Groce teaches disruptive backcourt defense, and it shows. The Bobcats are second in the nation (to VCU) at forcing turnovers with one in 26.3 percent of their opponents’ possessions. When Walter Offutt and D.J. Cooper are on the floor at the same time, which is a lot given that both get better than 72.5% of minutes (both played 37 or more minutes versus South Florida), they grab a bunch of steals (3.2% and 4.3% steal rates, respectively). This will be especially important given the likelyhood of UNC’s point guard-by-committee play Friday.
5. Yeah, that’s Clark Kellogg’s freaking son, Nick. The 6-3 sophomore has the 24th-best offensive rating in the nation at 124.7 and hits threes at a 41.8 percent clip. He’s a threat from anywhere, though, with the 33rd-best eFG% in the nation (61.7 percent). He’ll be key in the Bobcats avoiding the low-post.
5 reasons they won’t:
1. John Henson is back in top form. After missing three games with a hand injury of his own, the junior forward returned to the lineup for 28 minutes Sunday. He specializes in shot-blocking (10 percent blk%) and pulling down boards.
2. Henson and Tyler Zeller’s height inside will be a nagging problem for the Bobcats. Michigan had 6-8 Jordan Morgan and South Florida had 6-10 Augustus Gilchrist, but UNC has 7-0 Tyler Zeller and 6-10 John Henson contolling the paint. That’s a hard matchup for Ohio’s two 6-8 bigs. The Bobcat frontcout struggles to limit offensive boards as it is (allowing more than one per three possessions), and UNC will be a special challenge with Henson on board.
3. Shot defense is a specialty of these Tarheels, which will keep the Bobcats at bay inside and outside. UNC ranks 25th in opponent eFG% at 45.0 percent.
4. As I’ve mentioned, the Tarheels play fast. They’ll try to push the tempo, and if they’re successful they could easily break 1.2 points per possession — they scored 1.19 against Creighton. The Bobcats will have to find legs and go to the bench a lot if they can’t slow things down. Roy Williams knows how this works.
5.They’re hungry. All of the Tarheels were here last year, none of them were around for the 2009 season, and all are looking for a title in Zeller’s final season.