ST. LOUIS—At this point in the season, North Carolina and Kansas have played 37 games and 36 games, respectively. There’s plenty of tape on the two teams that have consistently been in the top 10 all year.
Williams will once again face off against his old team deep in the NCAA tournament
Despite that, neither team knows much about the other, outside of broad ideas on how they play. The Jayhawks know the Tar Heels like to run, and UNC knows Kansas’ bigs will be among the best it’s played all season.
As seen on Friday against Ohio, North Carolina will still play Carolina basketball without Kendall Marshall. The point guard’s absence didn’t change how UNC pushed the ball up the floor it’s known across the country for doing. And with his likely absence on Sunday, Kansas will still play Kansas basketball.
“We’ve got about 30 minutes to practice for North Carolina, and we’re not going to change who we are in that 30 minutes,” said Kansas head coach Bill Self, who spoke to the media an hour before the Jayhawks had a closed practice in the Edward Jones Dome. “We haven’t even talked about Carolina yet. We got to bed last night at 3:30.
“To think that we can change who we are and what we do in 24 hours, or really in a 30-minute period and be confident about it, that’s not really who we are. We’re not a team who changes a lot of things and does a good job doing it. We’ll tweak. There will be some things we can do a little differently but it’s not a major overhaul.”
The No. 2 and No. 3 most-winningest programs in the nation, Kansas and Carolina know exactly what each other is about. Both coaches are in their ninth season at schools where they didn’t change much about what the program does.
Bill Self inherited a Jayhawk program that had been under the direction of Roy Williams for 15 years. He admittedly didn’t change much—the culture, play-calling, etc.—because the program had been left in such good shape following Williams’ departure to his alma mater.
But what each team does not know is the exact minutia of the other. Unlike a Thursday or Friday game in the NCAA tournament in which both teams have four days to prepare, UNC and Kansas do not have that luxury.
The players will have to rely on quick scouting reports and their own observations from watching the other during the season.
Will Kendall Marshall be out of street clothes and able to play vs. Kansas?
“They love to play fast, and inside they’re beasts,” Kansas guard Tyshawn Taylor said. “They have guys who can space it out. They have guys who can space it out like Reggie Bullock, who’s been amazing. They have weapons coming off the bench in (James Michael) McAdoo who can play really well. Whether Kendall plays or not, I think that’s a big part. But they’re a good team without him and they’re that much better with him.
“I got a chance to watch them a bunch this year. I don’t actually know their plays and what they run but I’ve seen bits and pieces of it. They’re good, well coached and they play really hard. We have to match their intensity and play just as hard.”
Self refuted the notion of changing his defensive scheme for Stilman White. When asked why he wouldn’t press the freshman guard who just started in his first career game, Self said his guard has to play 38 minutes, too. Down the stretch of what is anticipated to be a close game, that may wear on Taylor, who averages 33.2 minutes per contest.
If Kansas does press, White invites it.
“Pressure as a point guard is something you have to welcome, because if you beat it, then it opens up things,” White said.
White will be feeding Tyler Zeller and John Henson, both of whom are coming off double-double performances on Friday. The two bigs are prepared for the challenges presented in facing Jeff Withey and Thomas Robinson like shot-blocking and physicality, but not so well known are their tendencies around the basket.
“We were joking with Z that this will be the first mobile 7-footer he’s ever gone against,” Harrison Barnes said. “John against Thomas Robinson, myself against Travis Releford. It’ll be a good matchup. Rebounding and hustle plays will be the key to tomorrow’s victory. It’s going to be about intensity and hustle plays.”
For Robinson, he’s seen plenty of UNC’s games: the aircraft carrier game, the Duke games and more. He doesn’t exactly know what UNC will be running, but he’ll know their game and UNC will know the Jayhawks’.
“I’ve watched them play a lot this year, but there’s a difference in watching them and actually being on the floor with them.”