FIRST LOOK: Sizing up North Carolina

NORTH CAROLINA easily topped 100 points in each of their tourney wins, probably could have gotten well over 125 had they felt like it. Washington State will face on Thursday the No. 1 overall seed in the Sweet 16, and arguably the speediest, most athletically talented group they have faced this year. But the Tar Heels face a unique situation too.

As valuable as game tape is, some things just don't fully reveal themselves on celluloid. Washington State's defense is one of them.

Not that the Tar Heels are overly concerned. Right now, they feel they could hang 100 on just about anybody. It's not difficult to understand why given how easy they made it look this past week against Mount St. Mary's and Arkansas.

"A lot of teams have tried to play slow against us," senior point guard Quentin Thomas said. "Washington State won't be the first team to do that. But that never stops us from trying to run. We try to never let anybody dictate the way we play." He added, "It's kind of hard to slow a team up on a fast break. We have to get our defense clicking early on them and go from there."

The Tar Heels are a complete team, with plenty of firepower inside and outside plus the rebounding skills to match. Forward Tyler Hansbrough was the choice of many for national player of the year honors. He led the ACC in the regular season averaging 23.1 points and 10.5 boards.

From outside, Wayne Ellington is the Tar Heels' most consistent long distance threat, pouring in 16.8 ppg.

Still, for a team with only two losses and how badly they beat up the competition this past week, Carolina did not dominate their conference tournament in they same way they have started the Big Dance, however.

In the ACC tournament opener, they topped ninth-seeded Florida State 82-70, with the Seminoles shooting 49.1 percent and matching North Carolina on the boards with 30 rebounds. It was only the third time Roy Williams' team had failed to outrebound an opponent this season. Virginia Tech barely fell in a thriller, 68-66. And Clemson nearly upset Carolina in the final before bowing out, 86-81.

No doubt, Washington State will need to bring their A-game on both ends of the court to pull off the upset. North Carolina was the No. 1 overall seed for a reason. And the Cougars will have to shoot better than they did against Notre Dame while still playing at a high level defensively.

But in watching Washington State utterly dominate Notre Dame, a team many thought would "expose" the Cougars, and in the way the Cougs played the second half against Winthrop, there's little doubt Wazzu is playing their best basketball of the season.

And that's not a bad place to be, particularly when facing No. 1.

North Carolina, by the numbers, Regular season:

Scoring Offense: 88.7 points per game, No. 2 in the nation
Scoring Defense: 72.7 ppg, No. 259 (out of 328 teams)
Scoring Margin: 16 ppg, No. 3
Field goal percentage: 48.2, No. 16
Field goal percentage defense: 42.2, No. 96
Three-Point Field-Goal Percentage: 37.8, No. 63
Free-throw percentage: 75.4, No. 13
Rebound margin: 11.4, No. 1

Projected starters:
F Tyler Hansbrough: 22.8 ppg, 10.2 rpg, (36 games)
G/F Marcus Ginyard: 7.4 ppg, 66 percent FT shooter (36 games)
F Deon Thompson 8.5 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 58 percent FT (36 games)
G Wayne Ellington 16.8 ppg, 42 percent 3-pointers (36 games)
G Ty Lawson 12.4 ppg, 5.3 assists per game (29 games)

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