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North Carolina's strengths, weaknesses and players to watch
All statistics courtesy of KenPom.com and are current as of March 24.
Team: North Carolina
KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 7
This might be a surprise, but this year's North Carolina team is actually better defensively than it is offensively (though it ranks in the top 20 nationally in both categories).
The Tar Heels are ninth in adjusted defensive efficiency, mostly because they excel in a few key areas.
For one, UNC almost never gives up free throws. The Tar Heels are No. 1 in the nation in defensive free-throw rate — a statistic that measures how many free throws a team gives up compared to the number of opponent field goals it allows. UNC's opponents have averaged just 13.6 free throws per game, which is even more impressive considering the Tar Heels play at the ninth-fastest pace in the country.
North Carolina's defense also has been able to limit good shots because of its size; UNC comes in as the tallest team in the nation, according to average height per position.
Opponents have made just 32 percent of their threes (67th nationally) and 43 percent of their twos (23rd nationally) against UNC, while the Tar Heels have blocked 14 percent of the two-pointers against them (16th nationally). UNC also doesn't allow many second chances, grabbing 73 percent of the available defensive rebounds (25th nationally).
UNC ranks 16th in adjusted offensive efficiency thanks to two main factors: turnovers and offensive rebounding. The Tar Heels turn it over on just 17 percent of their possessions (10th nationally) and also grab 40 percent of their missed shots (ninth nationally).
North Carolina actually isn't a great shooting team, especially from deep.
The Tar Heels have made 34 percent of their three-pointers (169th nationally) and 50 percent of their twos (108th nationally). They also struggle at the free-throw line, where they shoot just 68 percent as a team (220th nationally).
Defensively, UNC is not a turnover-forcing team, creating giveaways on just 19 percent of its possessions (259th nationally).
The Tar Heels also tend to allow a lot of three-pointers. This season, 36 percent of opponents' shots against UNC have been threes (273rd nationally) and 33 percent of the opposition's points have come from behind the arc (24th-highest split nationally). This trend was evident Friday, when 45 percent of Ohio's shots (32 of 71) and 55 percent of its points (36 of 65) came from three-pointers.
Players to Watch
Let's start with the player that nearly everyone has been asking about this week: point guard Kendall Marshall.
The 6-foot-3 sophomore fractured his wrist last week, and the decision on whether he'll play will be a gametime decision.
Marshall is one of the best passers in the nation, contributing 44 percent of his team's assists while he's on the floor (third nationally). Earlier this week, UNC coach Roy Williams said Marshall was the best guard he'd ever had at attacking teams after they score and pitching ahead to teammates.
Marshall barely shoots, attempting only 12 percent of his team's shots when he's in, but that doesn't mean teams can lay off him. The sophomore has made 53 percent of his twos this year (77 of 146) and 35 percent of his threes (28 of 79).
UNC's best player this year statistically has been 7-foot center Tyler Zeller.
The senior has kept his two-point percentage high (55 percent) despite having to take on a huge offensive role for his team. He also draws 6.4 fouls per 40 minutes (34th nationally) and makes 82 percent of his free throws.
Zeller also has been great on the glass, pulling down 14.1 percent of the available offensive rebounds (33rd nationally) and 19.9 percent of the available defensive rebounds (186th nationally).
Six-foot-10 forward John Henson's role is more that of a defensive stopper. The junior blocks 10 percent of the opponents' two-pointers while he's in the game (24th nationally) while also pulling down 26 percent of the available defensive rebounds (21st nationally). He's actually shot more two-pointers than Zeller this year but has only made 50 percent of his shots from there (194 of 386). Henson also has struggled at the line, where he's just a 52-percent shooter.
UNC small forward Harrison Barnes takes the highest percentage of his team's shots (29.1 percent of them when he's out there), and though he's not as efficient as Zeller, he's still solid.
The 6-foot-8 sophomore has made just 47 percent of his twos (174 of 368) but has countered that by putting in 38 percent of his threes (47 of 123) and 73 percent of his free throws (134 of 184).
Reggie Bullock — a 6-7 guard — is UNC's other main three-point threat.
The sophomore has made 38 percent of his threes this year (65 of 171) while keeping his turnovers down.
Bullock suffered a knee injury during Friday's game against Ohio, but he's expected to play against Kansas.
Sunday's game sets up to be a terrific matchup between two of the best frontcourts in the nation.
There will be a few storylines to watch:
1. UNC gets 60 percent of its points from two-pointers (14th-highest split nationally), while KU is the No. 1 team in the nation in two-point defense (40 percent). Which team will be better at its strength Sunday?
2. Though KU is also reliant on two-pointers (55 percent of its points come from twos), there's a strong possibility that UNC's strong interior defense and ability to avoid fouls will make it tough for KU in the paint. Will the Jayhawks be able to create and make open threes?
That appeared to be a weakness for UNC's defense on Friday, when Ohio made 12 of 32 threes (38 percent). So far this tournament, though, KU has made only 12 of 54 long-range shots (22 percent).
3. Will KU be able to get back in transition? UNC thrives on getting easy points, and Zeller is one of the best big men in the nation at beating his opponent down the floor for easy looks. KU's Thomas Robinson also has been poke-happy lately, trying to knock away defensive rebounds from opponents instead of immediately running to get back on D.
If KU's defense is able to get set, it should be able to get stops against UNC, provided that the Jayhawks are able to get the defensive rebound.
With a limited rotation, KU coach Bill Self might have to use most of his screaming to urge his team to sprint back defensively.
UNC's quick pace also should force Self to go to his reserves a bit more than he might in other games. Self has critiqued himself all year, saying that he's needed to sub more.
He'll have to be extremely disciplined to follow his own advice in KU's biggest game of the year.