Tonight, YOUR Marquette Golden Eagles can advance to the Elite Eight for the first time since 2003, but to do so they'll have to overcome the resurgent ACC regular season champions, the Tar Heels of North Carolina. To get you ready for the matchup, we sent some questions to SBN's North Carolina-devoted blog, Carolina March. Our thanks to our guy T.H. for taking the time to answer our hard-hitting and not-so-hard-hitting queries.
Anonymous Eagle: What were your expectations for UNC coming into the year? Have those expectations been met with the ACC regular season title and Sweet 16 run, or do the Heels need another win or two to cement this year as a success?
Carolina March: I think UNC fans had lower expectations for the team than a lot of the national media did, actually. I personally was setting my sights on a top-3 ACC finish, making the second week of the tournament, and a exorcism of the poor attitude that plagued last year's team. So in that regard, the season is a success. Having seen what this team can do, however, a loss here is going to leave a bad taste in my mouth. It won't ruin the season, but Carolina has the talent to keep playing at this point.
CM: At the time, I was quite unhappy. It's never good to lose your upperclassman point guard midseason. Of course, it turns out that his leadership skills were non-existent, and free from having to split time Kendall Marshall could really make the position his own. So now I'm pretty close to Super Happy Tyler, but I'm still sad about how everything fell out.
More questions, more answers, after the jump.
AE: In the last couple weeks, Carolina's developed a habit of coming out the gates very slowly, as they've allowed Miami, Clemson, Duke, and Washington to jump out to quick leads. Any common threads to the slow starts? How concerned are you about this trend coming into Friday's game?
CM: I'm very concerned. In the ACC tournament, the team came out and committed too many turnovers and made too many mental mistakes. It's a problem they'd had off and on for most of the season, although we thought they had it under control for a stretch of the ACC season.
The good news is, the start against Washington was different. They weren't turning the ball over - the Huskies just got on a hot shooting streak, and UNC panicked and tried to respond with quick threes of their own. If they've gotten that out of their system, they should be fine.
AE: John Henson knocked the ball out of bounds twice late in the Washington game to give Washington extra chances to win. Were UNC fans surprised to see sloppy play like that from 1) Henson and 2) a Roy Williams coached UNC team?
CM: Eh, they're still a young team, and the mental lapses come with the territory. Henson also deflected the inbounds pass that robbed Washington of their best chance to win, so you can't really complain.
AE: In the 2003 Final Four, Marquette got a clinic on the execution of Roy Williams' secondary break, and I imagine we'll have to be ready for it again tomorrow. This Marquette squad will run when the opportunity presents itself; how is UNC's transition defense?
CM: One thing I've noticed having seen two straight opponents who play as fast as UNC does, is that both Long Island and Washington were shockingly bad at transition defense. Carolina's pretty good - their bigs can run the floor, Dexter Strickland and Leslie McDonald can outrun an opposing fast break. It helps that UNC is good n the offensive boards too, which denies opponents a lot of fast break opportunities.
AE: Does UNC perform better or worse when Harrison Barnes is taking a higher percentage of shots in a game? Do we need to elevate the VOLUME SHOOTER ALERT level to Carolina blue?
CM: It's been so long since he hasn't taken a high percentage of shots, I don't really know how to answer that. The last team to hold him to single digit shots attempted was Duke in Cameron, a game UNC lost, so I suppose so.
AE: And while we're on the topic: what do you think of OUR powder blue uniforms?
CM: I'm a Denver Nuggets fan, so I've definitely seen worse.
AE: We once bumped into a UNC grad in a distillery in Kentucky. He was a senior in 1977. He saw our Marquette gear and instantly was like "grrr, Marquette." (Good naturedly, of course. At least we think it was.) Obviously he remembers that MU beat UNC in the '77 championship game, but how many Tar Heel fans today are even aware of that game?
CM: Anyone who was actually a Carolina fan in the '70's or steeped still holds a grudge, of course. Younger fans probably don't remember much. The years of near misses around that time - '77 and '81 - kind of get swept under the rug by the win in 1982. The fact that Marquette kind of slipped off our radar between Al McGuire and Tom Crean helped, too.