Tar Heels, Wolfpack one win away from Elite 8 showdown

North Carolina and North Carolina State enter tonight’s Sweet 16 on opposite ends of the favorite spectrum.

The top-seeded Tar Heels face No. 13 seed Ohio in the Midwest Regional semifinal, while the 11-th-seeded Wolfpack take on No. 2-seeded Kansas.

The Bobcats, however, have proven to be anything but a pushover, upsetting No. 4 seed Michigan and rallying past No. 12 seed South Florida to reach the round of 16 for the first time since 1964.

The Tar Heels could be without star point guard Kendall Marshall, the nation’s leader in assists. Marshall had surgery Monday morning to repair a broken scaphoid bone in his right wrist suffered during the second half of the Tar Heels’ win over Creighton in the round of 32.

North Carolina (31-5) might be without Marshall (8.1 ppg, 9.8 apg), who has been outstanding in the postseason. He has averaged 14.8 points and 10.3 assists in the past six games. With or without Marshall, the Tar Heels will present serious matchup problems for Ohio with 7-foot center Tyler Zeller and 6-11 forward John Henson.

The best season in school history keeps getting better for the Bobcats (29-7), whose previous school mark for wins was 25. Ohio is doing it with defense, holding opponents to 62.2 points per game. The Bobcats are 62-19 under coach John Groce when holding opponents under 70 points.

The Bobcats also got hot from 3-point range against South Florida, going 9 of 18. Junior Walter Offutt made all four of his 3-pointers en route to a game-high 21 points. The Bobcats will need the outside shots to keep falling to neutralize some of North Carolina’s size advantage.

Kansas looked like it might be headed home before a late rally against Purdue, and now the Jayhawks are headed to their backyard, so to speak, to face the Wolfpack in nearby St. Louis. The winner will face either top-seeded North Carolina or No. 13 seed Ohio in the Midwest Regional final. Both teams have plenty of motivation to see the Tar Heels — North Carolina, coached by former Kansas coach Roy Williams, handed the Wolfpack their only loss in their past seven games, a 69-67 defeat in the ACC tournament.

The Jayhawks led for only 45 seconds of their 63-60 win over No. 10 seed Purdue in the round of 32, but they survived an off night from their stars to reach the Sweet 16 for the fifth time in six seasons. Kansas squeaked by despite national player of the year finalist Thomas Robinson and senior point guard Tyshawn Taylor struggling at the offensive end.

Junior guard Elijah Johnson picked up the scoring slack with 18 points. The Jayhawks (29-6) are unlikely to endure another poor offensive performance from Robinson and Taylor, who combine to average 34.6 points, against an N.C. State team that scores 73.3 points per game.

The Wolfpack (24-12) played their way off the bubble with two wins in the ACC tournament, and they kept rolling into their first Sweet 16 since 2005 with upsets of San Diego State and Georgetown. All five starters average double figures scoring for N.C. State, led by 6-foot-8 junior C.J. Leslie’s 14.6 per game. Leslie and 6-8 junior Richard Howell form a tough post duo that will need to have a big game to match Robinson and 7-foot center Jeff Withey.

Kansas has won 10 of 11 all-time meetings, including all three at neutral sites, one of which was top-seeded Kansas’ 75-67 win in the 1986 Elite Eight. The most recent meeting was in the 1996-97 season.

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