Heels are prepared to toe the line
"He's 10-of-45," Williams said dryly, "not that I follow those kinds of things."
With point guard Ty Lawson, the ACC's Player of the Year, likely out with a much-publicized injured big toe, the Tar Heels are looking for everyone to contribute more offensively, beginning against overmatched Radford. The No. 16-seeded Highlanders (21-11) are the Big South champions and have won 17 of their past 19, but are in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1998 and will face a UNC team that's playing about an hour from its campus.
The knock on the Tar Heels this season has been their lack of defense on occasion, but without Lawson's ability to push the ball, they don't get as many baskets on the break. Heading into last week's ACC tournament, Williams thought Lawson would be ready. This time, they've prepared for life without him.
Binghamton (23-8) vs. Duke (28-6)
Duke isn't a team that's getting a lot of respect in the brackets (President Barack Obama's included), but Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski doesn't want to talk about what his team doesn't have (a legitimate inside post presence) or what the Blue Devils didn't do in the NCAA tournament the past two years (advance past the second round).
"These kids have nothing to make up for," Krzyzewski said.
He told them to forget the past, and it appears to have sunk in. Jon Scheyer said they've already moved on from winning the ACC tournament last weekend. The focus is now on Binghamton of the America East, and Krzyzewski said he doesn't expect the Bearcats to be "in awe" of his program.
"I see a very confident team," Krzyzewski said. "A team that has three perimeter guys that really can match up with a lot of perimeters. [D.J.] Rivera, he can flat-out score the ball. He's not going to be afraid. They have good egos."
Duke has compensated for what it lacks by tweaking the lineup for the past six games. Greg Paulus took a seat on the bench in favor of Elliot Williams, and Scheyer has moved from the wing to point guard on offense. Defensively, Krzyzewski has had Williams guard the opposing point guard, which has made him work harder at getting to the basket. It has also helped Duke cut down on turnovers and improve the spacing and freed up Scheyer on the perimeter.
Butler (26-5) vs. LSU (26-7)
LSU coach Trent Johnson is trying to convince his team "nothing's wrong," even though they lost three of their past four games. The players said they became complacent after clinching the SEC title, but the NCAA tournament has given them "another reason to be hungry," and they've "got their mojo back."
It's LSU's first appearance in the NCAA tournament since 2006, when the Tigers went to the Final Four, and much of their success can be attributed to the offensive output of guard Marcus Thornton, who is averaging 20.7 points and 5.5 rebounds per game.
Garrett Temple, the Tigers' top defender, was tasked with slowing down No. 1-seeded Duke's J.J. Redick in 2006, and he'll have another tough assignment Thursday. Temple is expecting to be guarding freshman Gordon Hayward, who is Butler's top perimeter shooter. He makes plays off the dribble and averages 13.4 points.
Sophomore Matt Howard is Butler's lone returning starter from last year, but Butler's résumé belies its age. The Bulldogs play smart, disciplined basketball and make the most out of each possession. Howard leads the team with 14.6 points per game. Coach Brad Stevens has a record of 56-9 in just two seasons at Butler and has gone to the NCAA tournament both years. And he's only 32 years old.
Minnesota (22-10) vs. Texas (22-11)
Texas coach Rick Barnes and Minnesota coach Tubby Smith have been friends for the past 30 years, and both have ties to the North Carolina area.
Their teams are equally similar, which should make for an intriguing matchup.
Minnesota makes good use of its bench and has used as many as 11 players in its rotation, and Barnes said the Longhorns had 11 different lineups on the floor at one point this season. Texas is expecting a strong rebounding and defensive effort from Minnesota, which mirrors how the Longhorns like to play. Texas has been inconsistent, though, in doing what it does best.
"We've had our ups and downs this year," said guard A.J. Abrams, who leads Texas with 16.3 points per game. "But we've had to play a lot of different styles. We've had to play through our big men, play through our guards. Had to switch up styles of play. Doing that is going to benefit us for this tournament. Seeing all those different types of defenses, it makes you better, even though you might struggle in the beginning."
Having advanced to each of the past 11 NCAA tournaments, Texas has the edge in postseason experience but lacks that "wow factor." Abrams will likely be matched up with Minnesota's top scorer, Lawrence Westbrook, who is averaging 12.4 points. Keep an eye on Texas center Dexter Pittman. He averaged a team-best 17.3 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks while shooting 66.7 percent from the field through three games at the Big 12 championship.