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March 30, 2008
Bracket Breakdown
Elite Eight, Day One

by John Gasaway

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(1) North Carolina 83, (3) Louisville 73 [68 possessions]

After the first half of this game, not only was I ready to proclaim North Carolina the prohibitive favorite to win the national championship, I was prepared to anoint them as better than even last year's Florida team. With the whole game in the history books, however, I've glimpsed just enough human frailty from Roy Williams' team to still be genuinely interested in what happens next weekend in San Antonio. Regardless of the opponent, Carolina's national semifinal promises to be special. If it's Kansas, UNC will be facing that rare defense (Memphis being another such example) that should have some chance of at least staying on the court with the Tar Heels. If it's Davidson, well, even better: it will be the North Carolina state championship game.

Sifting through last night's numerical rubble reveals that the Tar Heels' offense was consistently omnipotent throughout the game. What changed in the second half, when Louisville wiped out a 12-point deficit and tied the game at 59 with ten minutes remaining, was merely that the Cards' offense joined the fun. Even with their strong push coming out of halftime, however, the 'Ville simply coughed up too many turnovers and allowed Carolina too many offensive rebounds. You won't win many games when you give the ball away on 28 percent of your trips and let your opponent rebound 52 percent of their misses. When that opponent is North Carolina, you'll never win.

Rick Pitino has won one more national championship than I ever will, but watching this game I did have to wonder about the wisdom of pressing North Carolina. Anytime Ty Lawson split an intended two-man trap in the backcourt--and there were many such occasions--the Tar Heels were effectively playing five-on-three. That's not to say, however, that crawling into a slow-tempo bunker is the only possible response to the Tar Heel blitzkrieg. On the contrary, on those rare occasions when Louisville secured a defensive rebound, their best play was to get out in transition themselves. Any team that sends multiple players to their offensive glass, as does UNC, is inviting a test of their transition D. It was a moot point last night, though. The Cardinals couldn't get any defensive rebounds to start with.

As hard as it is to say of a non-Stephen Curry human, we at least have to entertain the possibility that Tyler Hansbrough last night had the most impressive game to date in the tournament to date (28 points on 12-for-17 shooting to go along with 13 rebounds). Saying that about a player who recorded five turnovers and one assist may seem odd, but the fact is Hansbrough's fusillade of 17-foot jumpers, launched from the seams of the Louisville zone, represents an ominous development for North Carolina's next opponent (potentially, their next two opponents). If Hansbrough can make jump shots, it's unclear what, exactly, an opposing defense is supposed to do.

(1) UCLA 76, (3) Xavier 57 [61]

Xavier is an excellent team, one that beat major-conference heavies like Indiana, Kansas State, Virginia and Auburn each by 15 points or more. What you saw last night, though, was the ground giving way under the Musketeers' feet, as an unmistakable chasm opened up. On one side: Xavier and about 336 other teams. On the other: those snooty one-seeds. (Maybe. We'll see what Davidson and Texas have to say about that today.)

The Bruins switched gears in this one, playing a game in which they were impressive from start to finish, one in which they left the court exultant instead of shaking their heads at yet another close win. Darren Collison, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Love all took either 11 or 12 shots. All of the above connected on seven of their attempts. Love made two threes and had 10 rebounds. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute recorded a 13-13 double-double, with seven of those boards coming on the offensive end. UCLA simply overwhelmed the Musketeers, scoring 1.24 points per trip.

The Tar Heels and the Bruins did their part. Now we'll see if the Tigers and the Jayhawks can hold up their end. If they do, these four one-seeds will have made history.

John Gasaway is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact John by clicking here or click here to see John's other articles.

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