A spot in the Final Four is up for grabs in St. Louis this evening, as the second-seeded Kansas Jayhawks take on the top- seeded North Carolina Tar Heels in the Midwest Regional final at the Edward Jones Dome.
Two of the most decorated programs in NCAA Tournament history will collide in this one, although these two storied programs are meeting for just the 10th time. Half of those meetings have taken place in the NCAA Tournament, the previous four occurring in the Final Four. The winner of this game will move into the Final Four and take on Ohio State next weekend.
Kansas is making its 41st appearance in the Big Dance, including a national- best 23 straight seasons. The Jayhawks have compiled a 91-39 all-time record with three national titles to their credit (1952, 1988, 2008). This is the 21st regional final for Kansas, which is seeking its 14th Final Four appearance overall and first since 2008. Bill Self's Jayhawks have navigated their way through the tourney field with wins over Detroit (65-50), Purdue (63-60) and most recently, NC State (60-57).
The Tar Heels find themselves in their 26th regional final, although it hasn't come easy. The team started its postseason run without the services of All-ACC First-Team forward John Henson. Just as the 6-11 junior returned to the lineup however, All-ACC point guard Kendall Marshall went down with a broken wrist. Still, UNC is seeking its NCAA-record 19th Final Four appearance after getting by Vermont (77-58), Creighton (87-73) and finally Ohio University (73-65 OT). North Carolina is now 108-40 all-time in NCAA Tournament play, tied with Kentucky for the most wins in tournament history. This game will certainly have some extra meaning for Roy Williams, who came to Chapel Hill after an illustrious career at Kansas. The Tar Heels, who have won five national titles (1957, 1982, 1993, 2005 and 2009), are seeking their third under Williams (2005, 2009).
It didn't come without a fight, but in the end, the Jayhawks advanced to the Elite Eight with a 60-57 win over the Wolfpack in Sweet 16 action. Thomas Robinson was once again instrumental in the win, as he recorded his 26th double-double of the season with 18 points and 15 rebounds. In the process, the 6-10 All-American set a new school-record for double-doubles in a season. Elijah Johnson added 11 points in the win, while point guard Tyshawn Taylor finished with just six points, although he did grab 10 rebounds and dole out five assists.
Robinson has been a one-man wrecking crew this season. One of the most dominant low post players in the nation, he comes into this game averaging 17.7 points and 11.9 rebounds per game. The Big 12 Player of the Year, Robinson and Kentucky's Anthony Davis are the only legitimate candidates for National Player of the Year. Taylor gives Kansas another prolific scoring threat at 16.6 ppg, although is much more than just a scoring threat (4.7 apg). Johnson (10.0 ppg) give the team perimeter support and leads the team with 63 three-pointers. Center Jeff Withey (9.1 ppg, 6.2 rpg) has shown flashes of brilliant play in the paint this year and takes some of the pressure off Robinson. The Jayhawks have the offensive weapons to win shootouts, but the team's defensive presence is certainly noteworthy as well. Kansas allows just 61.5 ppg and ranks sixth nationally in field-goal percentage defense (.378).
The Tar Heels were without their court-general and it showed against the Bobcats. UNC shot under 40 percent from the floor during regulation and committed a whopping 24 turnovers in the game overall, but still managed to turn it on in the extra session, outscoring Ohio 10-2 in overtime to get the win. ACC Player of the Year Tyler Zeller showed why he won the award, as he led the way with 20 points and 22 rebounds against the Bobcats. Reggie Bullock (17 points, 10 rebounds) and John Henson (14 points, 10 rebounds) also posted double-doubles, as North Carolina dominated the glass, outrebounding Ohio University, 63-30.
Marshall (8.1 ppg, 9.8 apg) has done some light work during the team's recent practice sessions, but remains questionable for this contest. While that is certainly not the greatest of news, North Carolina does still have plenty of talent on the roster. The frontcourt will once again have to lead the charge. Harrison Barnes (17.2 ppg, 5.2 rpg), Zeller (16.5 ppg, 9.7 rpg) and Henson (13.8 ppg, 10.1 rpg) are as good a frontcourt trio as there is in the nation. Barnes can score both inside and out, but it will be the play Henson and Zeller that likely tells the tale in this game. Both players can take over a game inside, but will have their hands full with KU's Robinson in this one. The team came into the Sweet 16 averaging a gaudy 82.0 ppg (second nationally), but without Marshall at the helm, UNC managed just 73 points in overtime against Ohio.