By Jon Rothstein
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NORTH CAROLINA VS. OHIO
BEST INDIVIDUAL MATCH UP: Reggie Bullock vs. D.J. Cooper
X-FACTORS: Harrison Barnes (UNC), Ivo Baltic (Ohio)
THE SKINNY: The Tarheels looked like they were headed straight towards a collision course with Kentucky in the National Championship game when they were rolling over Creighton last Sunday but all of that came to a screeching halt when Kendall Marshall fractured his right wrist. There is still no telling whether or not Roy Williams will have his starting floor general available for Friday night’s tilt and in essence, the Tarheels probably won’t need him. North Carolina’s power game inside should be more than enough to get them past a feisty Ohio team but anything beyond that will be a stretch if Marshall is unavailable.
PREDICTION: NORTH CAROLINA 76, OHIO 67
KANSAS VS. NC STATE
BEST INDIVIDUAL MATCH UP: Tyshawn Taylor vs. Lorenzo Brown
X-FACTORS: Jeff Withey (Kansas), C.J. Leslie (NC State)
THE SKINNY: Kansas was more than fortunate to hold off a pesky Purdue team last Sunday and the showdown with the Wolfpack while still difficult, is probably a better fit for Kansas’ personnel. The Jayhawks struggle against smaller, quicker teams that can spread them out and make Withey a non factor — and that shouldn’t be the case against NC State. Bill Self will need Withey to be at his best against Mark Gottfried’s talented front court trio of Leslie, Richard Howell, and Deshawn Painter but the Jayhawks should be more than able to put together an outing good enough to get them to a regional final in St. Louis.
PREDICTION: KANSAS 68, NC STATE 62
KENTUCKY VS. INDIANA
BEST INDIVIDUAL MATCH UP: Anthony Davis vs. Cody Zeller
X-FACTORS: Marquis Teague (Kentucky), Christian Watford (Indiana)
THE SKINNY: The tournament is starting to look more and more like it’s the Wildcats’ to lose and it’s hard to argue with that notion after Teague’s performance against Iowa State. The pit bull of a point guard had his best game of the season against the Cyclones and if he continues to play at that level, John Calipari’s team might be unbeatable. Indiana does own a win earlier this season over Kentucky and for history to repeat itself, the Hoosiers will have to do what they do best — make shots from deep. The problem is, no team is better at locking up people on the perimeter like the Wildcats.
PREDICTION: KENTUCKY 77, INDIANA 65
XAVIER VS. BAYLOR
BEST INDIVIDUAL MATCH UP: Tu Holloway vs. Pierre Jackson
X-FACTORS: Kenny Frease (Xavier), Perry Jones (Baylor)
THE SKINNY: This could wind up being the sleeper game in the tournament. Xavier has two of the better guards in the tournament in Holloway and Mark Lyons and the Bears’ triumvirate of Jackson, Brady Heslip, and A.J. Walton has also been playing extremely well. The key will be which team plays better in the paint. Jones has been enigmatic for the majority of the season and will guarded extremely tightly by Vanderbilt transfer Andre Walker while Frease will look to follow up on the best performance of his career after dominating Lehigh last Sunday. Still, second chance points could be a major factor in this one — and there’s no one who can affect that more in this game than Baylor senior power forward Quincy Acy. Look for his imprints to be all over this one.
PREDICTION: BAYLOR 77, XAVIER 71