Midwest Regional Final Betting Preview: #2 Kansas Jayhawks vs #1 North Carolina Tar Heels

2012 NCAA Tournament Midwest Regional Final
#2 Kansas Jayhawks vs #1 North Carolina Tar Heels
Edward Jones Dome – St. Louis, Missouri
Sunday, March 25, 2012, 5:05 pm Eastern, TV: CBS
Opening Line: Kansas -2
Current Line: Kansas -1 1/2
Opening Total: 144
Current Total: 143 1/2
Opening Money Line: Kansas -135 / UNC +115
Current Money Line: Kansas -125 / UNC +105

North Carolina is a slight underdog Sunday against Kansas in the Midwest Regional Final in St. Louis.

North Carolina and Kansas are two of the elite teams in college basketball. They meat for the fifth time in the NCAA tournament Sunday in the Midwest Regional Final for the right to go to the Final Four next week in New Orleans to play Ohio St. Each team has beaten the other twice in the tournament, but this is the first time they have met before the Final Four or National championship. North Carolina leads the overall series 6-3 against Kansas but, the Jayhawks won the last meeting in the 2008 Final Four en route to a national title.

The two schools are also tied together by coaches in the program’s history. Legendary Tar Heel coach Dean Smith was a player at Kansas. Current Tar Heel Coach Roy Williams was the longtime coach at Kansas before he took over the UNC  program 9 years ago. He played at North Carolina and was a long time Smith assistant coach before he went to Kansas. Williams was replaced at Kansas by current Jayhawk coach Bill Self.

Both North Carolina and Kansas had tough battles against double digit seeds in Friday’s regional semifinals. The Tar Heels beat #13 seed Ohio 73-65 in overtime. UNC was playing without point guard Kendall Marshall who was out with a broken wrist. He is listed as extremely doubtful for the rest of the tournament. Marshall led the country in assists with 9.8 a game. Back-up Dexter Strickland tore his ACL earlier in the season, so UNC was down to third string point guard Stilman White, a true freshman who averaged only 4 minutes a game until Friday night. White didn’t play badly Friday night with 6 assists, a steal and 2 points.  More importantly he didn’t turn the ball over. He missed all five of his field goal attempts but UNC doesn’t really need his scoring. The Tar Heels got to the Sweet 16 with easy wins over Vermont 77-58 and Creighton 87-73 in the first two rounds.

Kansas beat #11 North Carolina St 60-57 Friday night in the semifinals. It was the second narrow victory in a row for the Jayhawks after they beat Purdue 63-60 in the third round. Kansas beat Detroit 65-50 in the second round. Against NC State and Purdue, the Jayhawks were down big early and had to claw their way back. In both games Kansas took the lead late and held on for the win. In the NC State game, Kansas was up  50-40 with 11 minutes to go but scored only 10 points for the rest of the game. The Jayhawks were ice cold from beyond the arc going 1/14 from 3 point range for the game.

The Jayhawks (30-6) have losses to Kentucky, Duke, Davidson, Iowa St, and Missouri. Kansas has non-conference wins over Georgetown, UCLA, South Florida, Long Beach St, Ohio St, and USC. The Jayhawks swept every team in the Big 12 except Missouri and Iowa St.

North Carolina (32-5) has wins over Michigan St, UNC-Asheville, Mississippi Valley St, South Carolina, Wisconsin, Evansville, Long Beach St, Texas, Boston College, Miami twice, Virginia Tech, NC State 3 times, Georgia Tech, Wake Forest, Maryland 3 times, Virginia twice, Clemson, and Duke. The Tar Heels have losses to UNLV, Kentucky, Duke, and Florida St twice.

Kansas is outscoring opponents 74-62 this season. The Jayhawks are shooting 48% from the field, including 35.2% from the three point line. Kansas is #20 nationally in field goal percentage. Kansas makes 69.2% of their free throws. Kansas averages 37.2 rebounds a game and has a rebounding margin of +5.7. The Jayhawks average 15.3 assists, 13.1 turnovers, 7.3 steals, and 5.6 blocks a game. Kansas opponents are shooting 38.1% from the field including 34.5% from 3 point range. Kansas is #6 nationally in opponent’s field goal percentage. The Jayhawks force 13.9 turnovers a game.

Kansas Forward Thomas Robinson averages 17.7 points, 11.8 rebounds, 1.9 assists, along with 1.1 steals and 1 block a game. He leads the Jayhawks in scoring and rebounding. Robinson is second in the country in rebounding and is a Naismith Award finalist. Tyshawn Taylor averages 16.9 points, 1.9 rebounds, 4.7 assists to lead the team, and 1.2 steals a game. He is shooting 41.6% from 3 point range. Elijah Johnson averages 10 points, 3.1 rebounds, 3.7 assists, and 1.5 steals a game to lead the team. Jeff Withey averages 9.1 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 3.3 blocks a game to lead the team.   Travis Releford averages 8.4 points, 4.3 rebounds, 1.9 assists, and 1.1 steals a game.  Guard Ben McLemore and forward Jamari Taylor are both ineligible this season.

North Carolina is outscoring opponents 82-67 this season. The Tar Heels are #2 in the country in scoring. North Carolina shoots 46.1% from the field and 34.3% from 3 point range. UNC makes 68.4% from the free throw line. The Tar Heels lead the nation in rebounding with 44.8 rebounds a game, with a rebounding margin of +10.3. The Tar Heels average 17.3 assists, 11.7 turnovers, 6.9 steals, and 5.8 blocks a game. UNC is 4th nationally in assists. UNC opponents are shooting 39.4% from the field, and 31.7% from 3 point range. The Heels force 13.5 turnovers a game on defense.

UNC forward Harrison Barnes averages 17.3 points, 5.2 rebounds, 1 assist, and 1.1 steals a game. He makes 38.2% of his 3 point attempts. Tyler Zeller averages 16.4 points, 9.4 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, and 1.4 blocks a game. John Henson averages 13.8 points, 10.1 rebounds to lead the team, 1.3 assists, and 3 blocks a game to lead the team. Ironically, Henson returned from his own wrist injury suffered in the ACC tournament against Creighton, the same game in which Marshall broke his wrist. Reggie Bullock averages 8.7 points, and 4.9 rebounds a game. He makes 38% of his three pointers. Marshall leads the Heels in assists with 9.8 a game and  in steals with 1.2 a game. He also scores 8.1 points a game. Guard Leslie McDonald is out indefinitely with a knee injury.

Kansas is 17-17-1 ATS and the total is 12-21-2 this season. North Carolina is 20-16 ATS and the total is 18-18 this season. The Jayhawks are 11-4 after failing to cover, 10-4-1 as a favorite of 6.5 points or less, 4-9 against ACC teams, 3-7 in NCAA tournament games, and in neutral site games, 2-5 in Sunday games, 1-4 after a straight up win, and 1-5 against teams with winning records. The Tar Heels are 13-5 ATS in NCAA tournament games, 5-2 in non-conference games, 9-4 against teams with winning records, and overall, 5-12 as an underdog of 6.5 points or less, 6-20 in Sunday games, and 1-6 as a neutral site underdog.

Both these teams are probably lucky to be here, especially Kansas. However, that is what elite teams do, win when they aren’t playing their best basketball. For North Carolina to win, young Stilman White must step up his game, because the high octane Tar Heel offense sputtered against Ohio. Kansas will present a much tougher task, and I like the Jayhawks to win a close hard fought battle.

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