Wrap-up: Manhandling Marquette To Make The Elite 8
Marquette should have seen it coming. John Henson blocked their first shot of the game, foreshadowing a dominant defensive performance by the Tar Heels in the first half of yesterday’s Sweet 16 game. In fact, the Heels would hold Marquette to just 15 points on 20 percent shooting.
That effort keyed the victory as the Heels were outscored in the second half — but Blue Steel did see the floor for a minute at the end as well. The Tar Heels have officially gotten out of their ACC Tourney funk, and look like the team that beat Duke in Chapel Hill. In other words, a dominant, balanced team.
I’m going to keep this short because like the Heels, I’m in tournament mode. No sense in focusing on this nice win when there is a contest with Kentucky looming tomorrow. Carolina has beaten these same Wildcats once this year, albeit with a completely different team as Kendall Marshall only played 10 minutes in the entire contest. The new-look Heels should be better prepared, but the Wildcats will no doubt have revenge on the mind.
- The Heels improved play, I believe, is in direct correlation with Dexter Strickland coming back into form over the past two weeks. He has been fighting a knee injury, but it appears to not be bothering him and he’s stepped up in a big way. His stat line yesterday included an impressive zero in the turnover department, and he added three assists and four steals. UNC doesn’t need to rely on Strickland for scoring, especially with the way the big three are playing, so his contributions on defense and backing up Marshall at the point are the only responsibility with which he’s been concerned. It appears he’s embraced his role and the team is benefiting.
- Tyler Zeller has manned up. His 82 points in the first three games of the tourney have been propelling the Heels offensively. The jump hook is back with a vengeance and Marshall knows it. He looks for Zeller every time he’s isolated on the block, and that mostly means game over for defenders. He’s also been fighting for rebounds, particularly on the offensive end. Of his 26 rebounds in the tournament, 13 have been offensive.
- As I sort of touched on with the item about Dexter, it seems the players have finally figured out their roles. Scoring comes from Zeller, Barnes and Henson. Henson focuses on defensive rebounding and blocking shots in the lane. Marshall is in charge of distribution. Strickland gets after it on D and out on the fast break. They’re meshing at the perfect time.
Player of the Game: Tyler Zeller (27 pts, 12 rebs, 4 asts, 3 stls) Zeller is finally assuming a leadership role on this team. He’s a go-to scorer and effective rebounder and runs the floor better than almost any big man in the country.
Stat Stuffer (a.k.a. The John Henson Award): Zeller. He popped in what is becoming a customary 20+ points scoring and also had 12 boards but what was impressive was a 7-footer dishing four dimes and swiping three steals. For the record, Henson was a finalist with his line of 14 pts, 12 rebs, 5 blks, 1 stl.