Kansas vs. North Carolina Preview

Kansas vs. North Carolina Preview

Kansas vs. North Carolina
By Brian Edwards

When you get this deep into the NCAA Tournament, no extra emotion is needed. But when Kansas and North Carolina collide Saturday night in the second semifinal game in San Antonio, there will be plenty of additional juice in the Alamodome.

Roy Williams will be facing his former team for the first time since bolting Lawrence for his alma mater, leaving behind a fan base that to a large extent remains extremely bitter about his departure.

Five years after his exit, many of the KU faithful are still seething at Williams. You see, Good Ol’ Roy – who would be an ever-so-slight favorite in a dad-gummit’ contest against Bobby Bowden -- faced the same scenario in 2000 and matter-of-factly told the Jayhawks’ fans, “I’m staying.”

He did stay that time, but when Carolina came calling again three years later, the lore of Chapel Hill was too much. Williams couldn’t turn down his mentor, Dean Smith, twice, and he knew this might be his last chance to return home.

The logical thinker would surmise that Williams gave his all to Kansas during an ultra-successful 15-year tenure, even electing to turn down his dream job to remain at Kansas (the first time around, that is). But passionate college fans don’t embrace a whole lot of logic, and the Rock Chalkers have never wanted to win a game as bad as this one.

Adding insult to injury, Williams was able to win his first national title – one that eluded him at KU in four trips to the Final Four – just two years after leaving Kansas. Meanwhile, the Jayhawks are still seeking their first national title since Danny Manning led them to the 1988 crown.

Las Vegas Sports Consultants opened North Carolina (36-2 straight up, 24-11 against the spread) as a 2½-point favorite with a total of 157. As of early Friday, most spots had UNC at three or 3½ with the total up to 159.

"I think LVSC got it right," VegasInsider.com handicapper James Manos (#1 VI, +3,575) said on Thursday's edition of the Power Hours on VI Radio. "I also made the number 2 1/2. As for the total, I lean to the 'over' a little bit because I don't think Kansas is going to mind running, and I don't think North Carolina is going to get away from what its been doing all year. Roy Williams wants to get the ball up and down the floor and put pressure on your offense to score."

UNC has won 15 in a row, posting a 9-6 spread record during that stretch. The Tar Heels made it to San Antonio thanks to wins over Mount St. Mary’s (113-74), Arkansas (108-77), Washington St. (68-47) and Louisville (83-73). They covered the spread in all four games.

The Cardinals are the only team that has challenged UNC in the tournament, erasing a double-digit deficit at intermission and knotting the score at 59-59 midway through the second half.

But there would be no return trip to the Final Four for Rick Pitino, and he has only one person to blame for that – Tyler Hansbrough. The National Player of the Year was nothing short of sensational against Louisville, scoring 28 points and pulling down 13 rebounds.

Hansbrough was a beast in the paint and “wanted it” more than any player on the court. He converted 12-of-17 shots from the field, bulling his way to the rim with his relentless style.

Kansas (35-3 SU, 21-15 ATS) advanced to the Final Four for the first time in Bill Self’s tenure thanks to a nail-biting 59-57 win over Davidson, but the Jayhawks failed to hook up their backers as nine-point favorites. Mario Chalmers and Sasha Kaun scored 13 points apiece.

Davidson pulled to within 59-57 when Stephen Curry buried a 3-pointer from the left wing with 54 seconds left. After the Wildcats got a stop, the Jayhawks appeared to be in trouble.

Curry brought the ball up the court, but he was double-teamed as he dribbled to the right of the key with the last few seconds ticking off the clock. Curry was swarmed and saw senior point guard Jason Richards open at the top of key, so he made the unselfish play.

Richards, knowing he had to hurry to get the shot off, rushed the attempt and missed badly. Self went to his knees on the sideline and the Jayhawks celebrated, knowing they dodged a huge bullet against a game squad from the Southern Conference.

UNC owns a 10-4 spread record in 14 games as a single-digit favorite. As for Kansas, it hasn’t been an underdog all year. In fact, KU has been a double-digit ‘chalk’ in 32 of its 38 games.

The ‘over’ has been a money-making machine in UNC games all season, cashing at a 22-12 clip. On the flip side, Kansas has seen the ‘under’ go 19-17 overall. The ‘under’ has cashed in four consecutive KU games.

CBS will have the telecast 30 minutes after the conclusion of Memphis-UCLA, which should be around 8:45 p.m. Eastern.

**B.E.’s Bonus Nuggets**

--This is UNC’s 17th trip to the Final Four. Williams has taken UNC to the national semifinals twice and this is his sixth trip as a head coach with the first four coming during his tenure at KU.

--Did you know that Davidson made only 5-of-12 free throws in its loss to Kansas in the Elite Eight?

--Memphis senior guard Andre Allen, who serves as Derrick Rose’s back-up, did not accompany the team to San Antonio and is suspended for the Final Four. According to multiple reports, Allen (3.3 PPG) failed a drug test. He averages 14.1 minutes per game.

--Since the NCAA Tournament field was expanded to 64 (then 65) in 1985, this is the first time every No. 1 seed has made the Final Four.

--Manos made the UCLA-Memphis total 131 1/2. He made the side a pick 'em.

--As of early Friday morning, the only book listing UNC as a four-point favorite was BoDog.com. 

--Updated All-Tournament Team:
Point Guard: Derrick Rose (Memphis)
Shooting Guard: Stephen Curry (Davidson)
Slasher: Chris Douglas-Roberts (Memphis)
Power Forward: Tyler Hansbrough (UNC)
Center: Kevin Love (UCLA)

vegasinsider.com.

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Final Four analysis & pick: Kansas vs. North Carolina
Covers.com

Kansas vs. North Carolina

This could have very easily been Davidson versus North Carolina if Stephen Curry hadn’t gone cold at the end of his team's near-upset of the Kansas Jayhawks. Not to take anything away from Davidson’s impressive run to the Elite Eight (and a noteworthy 4-0 ATS record), but Kansas was a 9-point favorite in that game because they are a much better team on paper. They didn’t cover because they played a horrible offensive game.

If it weren’t for Sasha Kaun’s 6-for-6 performance off the bench, the Jayhawks would have been just 17-of-46 from the field against a Southern Conference team without much size or defensive presence. That may have been good enough to beat a 10-seed, but against North Carolina, there won’t be any room for error.

It’s hard to explain what happened to Kansas in the Davidson game because they're normally much better than that. They shot better than 50 percent in all their previous Tournament games and averaged 50.7 field-goal shooting throughout the season. The disturbing thought for Kansas backers is that the Jayhawks were bothered by the pressure of a tight contest on the grand stage of the Elite Eight. The more comforting explanation is that they just didn’t take Davidson as seriously as they should have.

I tend to think, with the layoff before the start of the Final Four, Kansas will be much more focused against Carolina. The Tar Heels are the only team left in the tournament that is perfect against the spread (Kansas blew its perfect ATS record against Davidson) and they’ve won their games by an average margin of nearly 25 points. It’s not likely that playing against Roy Williams (who quit as head coach in Lawrence to take over his alma mater at Chapel Hill) will offer any extra motivation for these kids, but it’s not likely they’ll need any for a Final Four matchup against North Carolina.

Against Louisville in the Elite Eight, the Tar Heels weren’t particularly good on defense, but that’s nothing out of the ordinary for them. Stopping opponents hasn’t been a strength for this team all through the tournament (why bother when you can run the floor like they can?) They’ve allowed more than 70 points in all but one game but they’ve made up for it with a potent offense, including 83 points against a tough Louisville zone that allowed only 61.5 points per game through the season.

On the other hand, defense has been the Jayhawks’ strong point throughout the year and throughout tournament. Despite the narrow margin against Davidson, they still managed to hold one of the best shooting teams in the tournament to 38 percent from the field and less than 30 percent from three-point range. UNC runs a much different offensive system and presents a completely new set of problems – not the least of which is national Player of the Year, Tyler Hansbrough – but with the third-best field-goal defense in the nation, they at least have the potential to slow down the powder blue scoring machine.

And Carolina has struggled against well balanced teams. Kansas has the weapons to attack them from every position on the floor. Darrell Arthur and Darnell Jackson are big enough to bang inside with Hansbrough (and maybe even draw some fouls against the rarely-whistled forward) and Brandon Rush can also use his size and skill to score on the wing. Mario Chalmers (47.6 three-point percentage) provides the outside portion of Kansas’ inside-out game and Sasha Kaun has probably been the best sixth man in the Tournament thus far.

Kansas is one of only a few team in the country that can match up with UNC in the halfcourt and in transition. If they rise to the occasion (rather than succumbing to the pressure as they nearly did in the Elite Eight) the Jayhawks can take advantage of the slack Tar Heels defense and not only cover the points, but also score the upset and earn a place in the championship.

Pick: Kansas

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(1) Kansas (35-3, 21-15 ATS) vs. (1) North Carolina (36-2, 24-11 ATS)

North Carolina continues its quest for a second national championship under coach Roy Williams when it takes on a Kansas program that Williams helped build into a national power before moving to Tobacco Road.

North Carolina played its closest game of the Tournament by far in the Elite Eight on Saturday, yet still pulled away late for another double-digit win, beating Louisville 83-73 as a 5½-point chalk to win the East Regional. The Tar Heels are on a 15-game winning streak (8-7 ATS), and they’re a perfect 4-0 ATS in the Tournament, winning by margins of 29, 31, 21 and 10 points.

Unlike Carolina, Kansas, had to battle for its life to get past upstart Davidson in the Midwest Regional final, watching a last-second 3-pointer fall harmlessly away in a 59-57 win, falling way short as a 9½-point favorite. The non-cover snapped a 4-0 ATS run by the Jayhawks, who have won 11 in a row, going 7-4 ATS in that span.

These two college superpowers haven’t met since the 2002-03 season – Williams’ last year with Kansas before taking the job at North Carolina. In that November 2002 clash, the Tar Heels rolled into Lawrence as a 13-point pup and came away with a 67-56 upset victory.

This is the Tar Heels’ second trip to the Final Four in four years. In 2005, Williams’ troops beat Michigan State in the semifinals, then edged Illinois in the championship game, cashing in both contests. The Jayhawks are in the Final Four for the first time since 2003, when they lost to Syracuse in the title game, after which Williams departed for Chapel Hill. Kansas hasn’t won it all in 20 years.

Kansas coach Bill Self is in his first Final Four, after reaching the Elite Eight five times with three different schools.

The pointspread trends are almost all positive for the Tar Heels, including 24-10 overall, 6-1 in NCAA Tournament play, 20-8 on Saturday, 22-7 against winning teams, 40-14-1 after a spread-cover, 39-19 after a SU win and 42-17-1 in non-conference play. Carolina is also 5-1 ATS in its last six against the Big 12. But the Tar Heels are a middling 4-5 ATS in their last nine as a chalk and 2-7 ATS in their last nine as a favorite of less than seven points.

The Jayhawks are on a 4-1 ATS surge at neutral venues and are on further positive pointspread runs of 5-1 catching less than seven points, 6-1 as a ‘dog of any price, 6-2 outside the Big 12, and 7-3 against winning teams. On the downside, though, Kansas is 3-7 ATS in its last 10 games against ACC opponents and 2-5 ATS in its last seven after a pointspread setback. Tonight marks the first time all season that the Jayhawks have been an underdog.

North Carolina has averaged an eye-popping 93 ppg in the Tournament on stellar 56.7 percent shooting from the field, while allowing 67.8 ppg on 43.6 percent shooting. In addition, the Tar Heels have killed opponents on the boards, going plus-55 in their four Tournament tilts (149-94).

Kansas has been solid defensively in the Tournament, allowing just 57.8 ppg on 35.2 percent shooting, while scoring 72.8 on 52.4 percent shooting. On the glass, the Jayhawks are plus-33 in their four tourney contests (130-97), and they’ve finished at least plus-6 in rebounds in five straight games.

For Carolina, the over is on streaks of 8-3-1 overall, 6-2 in the Tournament, 8-3 in non-conference play, 8-2-1 as a favorite, 4-1 after a SU win and 4-1 against the Big 12. On the flip side, Kansas sports under streaks of 6-0 in the Tournament (4-0 this year), 8-2 at neutral sites, 6-2 overall and 21-8 in non-conference play, although the over is still 35-16-1 in the Jayhawks’ last 52 non-conference clashes.

ATS ADVANTAGE: NORTH CAROLINA

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KU's Stewart out with broken knee
April 4, 2008

SAN ANTONIO (AP) -Kansas reserve guard Rodrick Stewart fractured his right kneecap Friday during the Jayhawks' open practice at the Alamodome.

Kansas coach Bill Self confirmed the injury, saying Stewart slipped on a ``wet spot'' on the court and will require surgery.

Stewart crumpled to the court after leaping to attempt a dunk near the end of 50-minute workout. As Stewart pounded the court, Self and trainers rushed to his side.

Stewart's leg was wrapped in a brace, and the festive crowd grew quiet as he was taken off the court on a golf cart.

Stewart, a 6-4 senior from Seattle, provides depth off the bench, averaging 2.8 points and 11.6 minutes per game.

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