Two of the most storied programs in NCAA Tournament history square off in the third round of this year's event on Sunday, as the top-seeded Kansas Jayhawks take on the eighth-seeded North Carolina Tar Heels in South Regional action at the Sprint Center.
The winner moves on to the Sweet 16 to play either VCU or Michigan.
While UNC was threatened by Villanova on Friday night, the Tar Heels were able to pull away late for the 78-71 victory. It was head coach Roy Williams' 700th career win, and the squad has now won 11 straight opening-round games in the NCAA Tournament. UNC had success shooting the ball, making 49 percent of its total shots, including 11-of-21 from 3-point range. Draining five of those triples was P.J. Hairston, who finished with a game-high 23 points. James Michael McAdoo poured in 17 points, Reggie Bullock netted 15, and Marcus Paige rounded out the balanced effort with 14 points, four assists and three steals.
Kansas experienced a serious scare against 16th-seeded Western Kentucky in the second round, but ultimately squeaked by with a 64-57 triumph to advance. The Jayhawks got strong performances from the field (20-of-42) and the foul line (24-of-30), but they nearly cost themselves by committing 17 turnovers and failing to make a 3-pointer. Jeff Withey led the way with 17 points, seven blocks and six rebounds, while Travis Releford and Ben McLemore poured in 11 points apiece in KU's most recent escape act. With the win, Kansas became the first team in NCAA history to officially win at least 30 games in four straight seasons -- Memphis accomplished the feat from 2006-09, but its 2007-08 campaign was later vacated.
These two elite programs have met in the NCAA Tournament five times previously, most recently last March when Kansas topped North Carolina in the Midwest Regional Final, 80-67, to advance to the Final Four. The Tar Heels lead the all-time series however, 6-4.
Williams, who has led the Tar Heels to two national titles (2005, 2009), coached at Kansas from 1988-2003, and is the second-winningest coach in Jayhawks' history behind the legendary Phog Allen. He is currently second at UNC as well, trailing another legend in his former mentor, Dean Smith.
Kansas is led by Bill Self, who directed the Jayhawks to the 2008 national title and is putting the wraps on his 10th season at the helm after replacing Williams in 2003.
The Tar Heels' offensive production has been prevalent all season long, as they net 77.3 ppg, although their scoring defense (69.2 ppg) oftentimes leaves the team vulnerable. The squad is paced by a trio of scorers capable of leading the way on any given night, as McAdoo, Bullock and Hairston all average between 14 and 15 ppg. McAdoo and Bullock are strong on the boards with 7.7 and 6.6 rpg, respectively, while Bullock and Hairston are deadly from 3-point range with 173 long-range buckets between them. Dexter Strickland and Paige are both unselfish playmakers, the pair combining for nearly nine assists per contest.
Much like UNC, Kansas boasts a potent offense with a scoring average of 75.1 ppg on 48 percent field goal efficiency, but unlike the Tar Heels it possesses an elite-caliber defense in permitting a meager 61.3 ppg on less than 36 percent accuracy from the floor. Pacing the Jayhawks' attack is freshman sensation McLemore, who pours in 16.2 ppg on greater than 50 percent from the field (including 43.1 percent from 3-point range). Withey brings 13.7 ppg and 8.3 rpg to the table, and is an outstanding interior defender with 3.9 bpg. Releford (11.5 ppg) is an efficient guard, as he hits 56.7 percent of his total shots, while Elijah Johnson (9.9 ppg) gets his teammates involved with 4.7 apg.