NCAA Tournament: The Cold Splash of Water That is North Carolina

Will this play make the difference between North Carolina winning the NCAA Tournament and not? Possibly. Does it affect the outcome of Friday's game against Ohio? Most definitely not.

Has enough time passed for celebration yet? Probably not.

For an achievement that has only happened five times in the history of the tournament, Ohio could probably get away with another night of partying before looking at the harsh reality of North Carolina waiting for them in St. Louis on Friday.

So if you want to live in the moment for a few more ticks of the clock, you might want to stop reading.

If you are ready for the cold splash of water to wake you up from the dreams of Bobcats in glass slippers, you can read on.

North Carolina is not Michigan. North Carolina is not South Florida.

Each of those teams had flaws. North Carolina has none (well, one now). Each of those other teams had built up a season of reasons as to why they were beatable in the tournament.

Over the course of the year, North Carolina has given us just five chances to think they were anything less than perfect. Twice it was Florida State and its similar barrage of big men. Once it was Duke in a rivalry game. Once it was Kentucky, who most people believe will take this thing in the end.

And then once it was UNLV. It happened early, but North Carolina was at full strength. That loss probably came down to the Rebels outrebounding North Carolina.

Ohio is not UNLV. There is not a trio of players over 6-10. There is not even a duo of players at 6-8, like those who dominated the boards against the Tar Heels.

Ohio is just D.J. Cooper, some strong guards and Ivo Baltic. They are going to look mighty small out there.

It isn't that Ohio can't beat tall, inside teams. It is that they have no business beating THIS tall, inside team.

Even with the loss of Kendall Marshall, who might be the best college point guard ever (351 assists in a single season breaks the needle on the scale that runs from normal to ridiculous), North Carolina has three guys that are better than the entire Bobcat team put together.

Here is the sad breakdown by HOOPWAR:

Name Year Pos. HOOPWAR
Tyler Zeller Sr. F 9.1
John Henson Jr. F 8.9
Harrison Barnes So. F 4.7
Reggie Bullock So. G 1.3
??? PG
BENCH
James M. McAdo Fr. F 1.1
P.J. Hairston Fr. G 0.8
Stillman White Fr. G -0.6
Justin Watts Sr. G -0.9

If you add in Kendall Marshall, whose wrist will most likely not be ready to go against Ohio, that is another 5.3 HOOPWAR in the starting lineup. His replacement will either be White or Watts, neither of which can hold a candle to the inferno that was Marshall.

The sophomore point guard led the team in minutes (1188), and steals (43), and no one else on the team had more than 45 assists. He may not have had the highest HOOPWAR, mostly due to a defensive mark on par to what Watts put up in his limited minutes, but he registered the highest offensive contribution on the team.

That is more than Barnes, more than Zeller, more than Henson.

So when the media is today freaking out about North Carolina's chances without Marshall, they have a darn good reason for it. Syracuse could survive with Fab Melo (1 HOOPWAR, which was easily matched off the bench). Indiana could survive without Verdell Jones (0 HOOPWAR).

There may be no accounting for leadership or depth when looking at pure numbers, but neither of those omissions from the lineup which each garnered a lot of attention are as devastating or worth examining as much as Marshall's wrist.

Yes, this hurts the chances that the Tar Heels will win it all. They were my computer's pick at the beginning of the tournament, but the race was close between them, Kentucky and Ohio State. Take away a player who was easily equivalent to 5 wins, and you probably still have a top 10 team, but you are definitely not one of the dominant three from the season.

Can you beat North Carolina State without Marshall? Yes, probably just as handily. Can you beat Kansas without Marshall? Maybe, although the odds are no longer decidedly in the Tar Heels favor (more 50-50).

And can you beat Ohio, which happens to be the first stepping stone in North Carolina's way?

Look at that team. It takes 6 players before you find one that didn't make a positive contribution to his team. Ohio doesn't have that. Ohio could only dream of fielding a quintet of players that strong.

Yes, North Carolina can beat Ohio without Marshall. They could lap the gym without Marshall.

But remember that this will be a learning experience for the Tar Heels who haven't had to go long this season without their floor leader on the court. They will be looking to use the Ohio game as practice for bigger things ahead.

Does that open the door for the Bobcats? Maybe slightly, but John Groce's team isn't getting more than a toe in that crack before breaking its foot when that door slams shut.

Time to wake up. The cold water has been thrown.

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