Cougar Hoops Notebook: Sweet 16 Edition

ODDSMAKERS HAVE INSTALLED North Carolina as an eight-point favorite over Washington State for Thursday's Sweet 16 showdown between the second-highest scoring team in the nation and the second-best defense in the land. Given the location of the game, plus a couple of notable trend lines, it's probably a tribute to WSU and its stifling D that the spread isn't bigger.

Consider the factors working against the Cougs when they tip off with the Tar Heels at 4:27 pm Pacific Time:

North Carolina, the No. 1-ranked team in the nation and the No. 1 overall seed in the tourney, has only lost twice this season – by two points to Maryland on Jan. 19 and nine points to Duke on Feb. 6. NC's record is 34-2.

• The game will be played in Charlotte, effectively making it a home date for the ‘Heels, whose campus is just 140 miles away. North Carolina played it's first two NCAA Tournament games in Raleigh, about 30 miles from the school.

• The Tar Heels feature one of the most potent forces in America in 6-9, 250-pound National Player of the Year Tyler Hansbrough. The three-time All-American is Mr. Double Double, averaging 22.8 points and 10.2 rebounds per game.

• WSU, courtesy mostly of John Wooden, is 0-25 lifetime against teams ranked No. 1 in the country.

SO THOSE ARE the mileposts working against the Cougars. Now consider the ones working for them:

• All the pressure is on Carolina. They're carrying a season-long burden of expectation to win it all.

• The Cougs are playing truly inspired defense right now, surrendering an average of 40.5 points in their tourney wins over Winthrop and Notre Dame. The Irish, like the Tar Heels, averaged more than 80 points a game this year. For the season, the Cougs are giving up an average of 56.1 points per game.

• The Cougars are road warriors. This season they are 10-3 on the road and 17-4 when playing on the road or at a neutral site.

• WSU point guard Taylor Rochestie shoots 11 percentage points higher from the field on the road than at home and 22 points higher from three-point range.

ON MONDAY, COUGAR coach Tony Bennett captured well the stark contrast between the high-scoring, transition-loving Tar Heels and the ball-hawking, transition-killing Cougars: "There's a collision coming, isn't there?"

If there is any doubt the Tar Heels will try to run the Cougars to death in transition, consider what's on the mind of NC coach Roy Williams: He opened his post-game press conference Sunday by lobbying for the removal of the "NCAA" logos from the court, saying they were slick and dangerous. It also didn't help the fleet-footed ‘Heels fast break, as they had some trouble slipping in their first two tourney game.

WSU senior Kyle Weaver is believed to be the first player in Pac-10 history to record 1,000 points, 500 rebounds, 400 assists, 150 steals and 75 blocks in a career. He currently ranks in the top-10 among active career leaders in the Pac-10 in assists (first), steals (first), blocks (eighth) and points (ninth).

From Herb Gould of the Chicago Sun-Times: "Was Notre Dame that bad, or is Wazzu that good? We'll find out this week."

From USA Today: UCLA and Washington State became just the third and fourth teams since the shot clock's introduction in the 1986 season to allow fewer than 50 points in their first- and second-round games. The first two teams on that list went to the Final Four: Kansas in 1986 and UCLA last year.

• The Cougars are 26-8 this season, tying last season's squad for the most wins in school history. This marks the first time WSU has posted back-to-back 20-win seasons since Jack Friel reeled off four straight between 1938-42.

• The Cougs are third in the nation in turnovers per game (9.9), seventh in assists and eighth in assists/turnover ratio (1.4).

• North Carolina is averaging 110.5 points per game in the NCAA Tournament this season with wins over No. 16 Mount St. Mary's (113-74) and No. 9 Arkansas (108-77).

• Besides Hansbrough, four Tar Heels average in double figures for NC: Wayne Ellington (16.8), Ty Lawson (12.9) and Danny Green (11.3).

• Thursday's game is the first matchup between Washington State and North Carolina, and the first game WSU ever has played in the state of North Carolina. Cougar coach Tony Bennett is no stranger to Charlotte, however. He spent his three NBA seasons (1992-95) as a backup point guard for the Hornets.

• The only other time the Cougars have won two games in the tournament came in 1941 when the field consisted of eight teams.

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