Kansas ousts UNC with second-half spurt
Here are three observations from North Carolina's 70-58 loss to Kansas in the NCAA tournament's Round of 32 on Sunday:
1. Bill Self still holds the upper hand.
For those keeping a reasonable head planted firmly on their shoulders, three games is far too small a sample size to throw around the idea that any coach "owns" the other. But Self's 3-0 record against Roy Williams while at Kansas stands up to the eye test, especially considering all three victories have come with relative ease on the biggest stage — the Jayhawks have beaten their old coach in the Round of 32, the Elite Eight and the Final Four now.
After Sunday's second-half rout, all three wins have come in double-digit fashion by an average of 14.3 points per game. That will not exactly inspire confidence in Williams' ability to take down his successor, regardless of his two national championships.
(For the record: North Carolina's Elite Eight loss to Kansas last season came after losing starting point guard Kendall Marshall, one of the premier floor leaders in the country. To expect Williams to "out-coach" Self with Stillman White running the most important position on the floor in his offense was likely just a tad unrealistic.)
However, with the losses — and margins of victory — piling up, there aren't too many favoring Williams' coaching acumen compared to Self's at the moment. That's a short-sighted take on two extremely impressive coaching careers, but with Kansas fans holding up acronym-spouting CBS signs spelling out, "Can't Beat Self," snap judgments are going to be common. It always seems to work out that way with NCAA tourney losses.
2. Second-half collapses do not make NCAA tournament losses any easier.
For the Tar Heels, the fact that they thoroughly outplayed the Jayhawks for the first 20 minutes probably offered little consolation in the locker room.
However, that was the case heading into halftime, as the undersized ACC squad held a nine-point lead after swarming and frustrating the Big 12 champs all over the floor. Kansas nearly reached their season-average turnover mark (14) by the half. It scored three points in the first eight minutes. It was, in totality, the most intense half of basketball the Tar Heels had turned in all season.
Perhaps they ran out of gas.
Despite holding the Jayhawks to one of their worst offensive outputs of the year, the Tar Heels could not run away with it —shooting just 25 percent from the field in the first half. It didn't get much better in the second. They finished by shooting just 30 percent on a whopping 73 shots.
Reverting back to the Williams-Self "rivalry" once more: North Carolina has not outscored Kansas in the second half in any of their last three meetings. Last season's Elite Eight game offered a 13-point second-half advantage after the two teams were tied at half. This time, UNC was outscored by 21 points in the final 20 minutes.
Call if halftime adjustments. Call it the breaks of the game. Call it whatever you wish.
It was the tale of two halves Sunday.
3. Jeff Withey left his mark in Kansas City.
The primary culprit of the Tar Heels' woeful shooting performance was undoubtedly the 7-footer Withey, who is fast approaching Tim Duncan's all-time record for blocks in NCAA tournament competition.
North Carolina's initial game plan was to drive right at the big man (presumably to get him into early foul trouble), but when that plan yield negative results, the offense began to become more and more perimeter-oriented as the game wore on. And not even that strategy was entirely safe from Withey — he blocked Reggie Bullock's 3-pointer late in the game.
In the end, Withey finished with five blocks and served as the foundation of Self's offense, scoring 16 points and grabbing 16 rebounds. Kansas will need every bit of that effort in its Sweet 16 matchup with Michigan.