For the first time all season, I really have no idea what to expect. Every game this season prior to San Antonio, all thirty-eight of 'em, I had a general idea of what to expect. And when looking at all thirty-eight games, I expected a Jayhawk win. Of course, three times we didn't actually win the game, but going into it, I expected a Jayhawk win. All season long, the games have been about us. If we played like we should play, we won. If not, we either struggled and won or just lost. All of our opponents, besides our two games against Texas, can not compete with a Jayhawk team playing at its finest, pure and simple. So, the the decision of who won and who lost almost all came down to us, and how we played.
But later this afternoon, when our 'Hawks take the floor in San Antonio, the game won't be decided just on how we play. Sure, if we play the best game of the season, we probably win regardless of what the Tar Heels do. Assuming that doesn't happen, there are multiple variables for the first time all season in deciding the outcome. And that kind of freaks me out. Even the two games against Texas, I was pretty confident that we would win, especially the "neutral" floor outing in Kansas City. But today, who knows what will happen.
That is obvious, and that's all I wanted to say, but it is kind of weird to think about. At least I think it is. Now on to the deeper thoughts.
While this game is a team game, specifically with these two teams, it is always fun to break down the game position-by-position.
Ty Lawson vs. Russell Robinson :: This is the most lopsided matchup, at least in terms of talent and all that. All season long, we have heard how Russell shouldn't be measured in terms of statistics, and instead of how well the team plays as a whole. He has had cliches thrown his way all season long, from "glue guy" to "team player". Ty Lawson, on the other hand, is the fastest player in college basketball and isn't a horrible shooter. Still, as long as we can force him to shoot the outside shot, and not give up freebies on the fast-break, we should be OK. And while UNC, namely Lawson, has absolutely incredible speed, and can speed the ball down the court for a lightning-quick basket. The key to stopping this will be Russell, assuming that he draws the assignment of Ty Lawson. He will have to man up on Lawson as soon as the ball goes through the basket, not allowing him to get a quick release to the fast-break. I'm not afraid to run back-and-forth with the Tar Heels, but we still shouldn't give away freebies.
Wayne Ellington vs. Mario Chalmers :: These two players are both sharpshooters, and whoever shoots better could be the difference in the game. Ellington is the main long-range shooter for the Tar Heels, putting up 186 treys on the year. Chalmers is a better overall offensive player, at least according to offensive rating, and a better perimeter shooter. He is also a much, much better player on the defensive side of the ball, and it isn't all that close. Ellington is a superior rebounder, but overall Mario is the better player. Assuming Mario draws the assignment of covering Ellington, I am excited for the matchup. I think that Mario could really shut Ellington down and even poke a couple of steals here and there, and I wouldn't be as confident in the vice versa case. So, maybe homerism is shining through, but I really do think that Super is the better overall player. However, this is the key matchup in this game, at least as far as I am concerned, so hopefully I am right.
Marcus Ginyard vs. Brandon Rush :: This one shouldn't be close, if you compare just these two individual players. They are different players, with Brandon preferring the distance shots (although he can drive as good as anyone in the country) and Ginyard shooting almost exclusively two-pointers. This one-dimensionality, along with Brandon's improved defense this season, should render Ginyard a minor offensive threat. Plus, Ginyard turns the ball over more than average, so don't be surprised for us to exploit that, especially the quick hands of Mario and Russell. This is the most lopsided matchup of any in this game, and Brandon will have to take full advantage if we are to win. We can't afford a poor performance from Brandon, we wouldn't survive if he doesn't improve from Sunday.
Deon Thompson vs. Darnell Jackson :: This is the matchup that will be overlooked by everybody, but will be crucial in determining the winner. You see, as I already mentioned, North Carolina is an excellent offensive rebounding team. And while Hansbrough is thought of as the offensive rebounding machine, rightfully so as well, Thompson will be just as crucial to box out on the defensive glass. Stopping Hansbrough will be a crucial part of the gameplan, and I don't think we will lose track of Psycho T all that often, leaving Thompson to pick up some loose trash on both ends of the floor. Jackson will have to box him out and allow minimal second chances, forcing the Heels to beat us with their perimeter jump shot. Layups off second chance points and free throws are how they score the majority of the points, we can't allow them to get those free layups. On the other end of the floor, Darnell will have to be the one picking up the loose balls. Assuming we aren't shooting lights-out, D-Block will have to sneak in some extra freebies of his own here and there, or we have no shot. I know, I have said we have to do everything perfect, or at least close to it, or we will lose. And that most likely isn't true, but I am just incredibly nervous right now.
Edge: KU (barely)
Tyler Hansbrough vs. Darrell Arthur :: Assuming these two are matched up on each other, this will be an absolute blast to watch. Arthur is, without a doubt, the most athletic big man that has guarded Hansbrough all season long, and it will be interesting to see how he responds. Of course, no player in the history of basketball has worked as hard as Psycho T does, so who knows how Arthur will react to that overachieving, work-hard spirit. But in terms of who has a chance to explode, no matter how hard Psycho T works, I will take talent over work-hardness every day of the week and twice on Saturday. Obviously, I can't say with a straight face that we have the edge in this matchup. But, while not "expecting" it, I am really looking forward to watching DA explode. I have a good feeling about it, too. He played pretty poorly in Detroit, but he still has the look of a player about to explode. Maybe I am just hoping for too much, but I think that Darrell Arthur will be a household name by the end of the game. At least I hope so. Still, Psycho T is the obvious pick.
Danny Green + Quentin Thomas vs. Sherron Collins + Sasha Kaun :: This is an interesting matchup, and could play a crucial role. Before Detroit's regional, I probably would have given the Heels a nod, as I never saw Sasha's breakout coming. Of course, now that it did happen, I really think that we have the better bench. Sherron and Danny Green are the two best reserves in the entire country, and both are more talented than players starting ahead of them (Thompson for Green, Robinson for Collins). However, with Sherron's injury the edge has to go to Green. Still, our bench is better overall, at least IMO, because Sasha. Sure, Quentin Thomas made the Final Four back in 2005 and won a ring (the only player that has a ring in this year's Final Four) and has all of those undefinable leadership qualities or whatevs, but Sasha is my new hero. I still think he should have lost some PT to Cole, but no way should he see any decrease whatsoever in PT while in San Antone, providing he doesn't drop back to familiar territory. So, while this is pretty close, I'll give the slight edge to us.
A whole lot more on the other elements of the game in the Open Thread, but for now enjoy the first semifinal. I wanted to get this out before the game, and I barely snuck it in in time. So no time for any summary, or anything. Sorry.