Defensive Warfare

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – When North Carolina and Kansas take the Alamodome court in Saturday night's Final Four nightcap, the nation's top-two offensive juggernauts will be on display. But it will be what transpires on the other end of the court that determines which team will earn a shot at the national championship.

The Tar Heels hold the top spot in kenpom.com's adjusted offensive efficiency rankings (127.2 points per 100 possessions) while the Jayhawks are right behind their next opponent with a 125.4 average.

But while Kansas has ranked consistently near the top of the equivalent defensive efficiency rankings (83.7 ranks 3rd nationally), North Carolina has slowly had to increase their production on that end of the floor, lifting their ranking from 38th in mid-January to 19th currently (89.6).

Both teams are loaded with offensive firepower that can strike quickly and harshly in a relentless manner. Kansas leads the nation in scoring margin (plus-19.3) and have four scorers averaging between 11.2 and 13.1 points per game.

"I said this about five or six weeks ago -- I think they're the most complete team out there and played the best basketball down the stretch," UNC head coach Roy Williams said during his weekly radio show on Monday. "They have no holes. They can score inside, they can score outside."

North Carolina counters with offensive ensemble of weapons, led by National Player of the Year Tyler Hansbrough (22.8 ppg) and Wayne Ellington (16.6). Those two, along with junior wing Danny Green have combined to score 1,926 points this season, ranking as the second-highest scoring trio in school history, behind Antawn Jamison, Shammond Williams and Vince Carter in 1997-98 (2,051).

"We've got to try to figure out a way to guard them all," Kansas head coach Bill Self said during Monday's NCAA teleconference. "You put so much focus on Tyler, but he still gets 20 and everybody else has big nights. The thing that I would say, rather than focus on how do you stop individuals, would be how to slow down their team… Our focus will not be on we just have to do this or that with one player. Our focus will be don't let them be who they want to be."

And that's where Ty Lawson comes into play for the Tar Heels. While his 2.4 assist-to-turnover ratio ranks only slightly better than Kansas' Mario Chalmers' 2.33 mark, the Clinton, Md. product's speed in transition sets him apart from anyone else in San Antonio this weekend.

"Ty has such an effect on the game," Williams said. "We play different, the other team plays different. He is one of those guys that the other team has to change their game plan when he's in the game."

Lawson's ability to operate in the open court will be imperative for Ellington and Green, who thrive when teams are forced to account for the roadrunner with the No. 5 on his jersey, as they're able to vanish and then reappear for open looks. If Kansas is able to slow the Tar Heels' tempo down just enough to get into its set defense, then problems could arise for the boys in Carolina blue.

"They put so much pressure on you on the perimeter," Williams said. "I've got to think that they're one of the top teams in the country just on steals, because they can just reach in and take your ball.

"And I think that the pressure they put on you out there makes you take rushed shots – makes you turn it over first – but then also, their harassment does make you take rushed shots or make passes that aren't very precise, and then all of a sudden, they're stealing it and going down the other end."

While Lawson may be the key for the Jayhawk defense, Kansas forward Darrell Arthur (12.7 ppg, 5.1 rpg) may serve that role for the Tar Heels.

The-6-foot-9, 225-pounder may not possess the outside scoring ability of Louisville's Earl Clark, but he will present a matchup problem with his rare combination of size and speed, as well as his ability to knock down the 15-footer consistently and to find the open man in the Jayhawk's offensive sets.

"It was very tough," junior wing Danny Green said of Clark, who drew four fouls on both Green and Deon Thompson. "He's a very athletic player… He's just long. It's hard to guard somebody like that. He can play inside/outside, and I knew he was going to go inside on me because I'm a guard."

Williams eventually went to a zone late in Saturday's game to offset some of the pressure that Clark was putting on his defense, and the same strategy may occur on Saturday against Arthur.

"[The zone] keeps guys out of foul trouble, and it cuts down on their dribble penetration getting to the basket," Thompson said. "But you're going to have to rebound the ball with those outside shots going up."

But tough defensive assignments are expected in April. As Williams alluded to during his Tuesday press conference, teams that make it to the Final Four rarely have weaknesses on other sides of the ball.

And while North Carolina has yet to shake the questions surrounding their defense, there is no doubt that vast improvement has occurred to put them in contention for its second national championship in four years.

"I think that this team has continued to be challenged on the defensive end – by the media, by the coaches and obviously by other teams," junior wing Marcus Ginyard said. "I think this team has done a great job answering all of those challenges, and just really getting a lot better defensively in the last month or so."


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