By Wendell Barnhouse | firstname.lastname@example.orgBig12Sports.com Correspondent KANSAS CITY, Mo. –
Let's just get this out of the way and then move on to more important issues.
No. 1 seed Kansas will face No. 8 seed North Carolina in a round of the 32 game in the South Regional in the Sprint Center Sunday (4:15 p.m./CBS). The Tar Heels are coached by Roy Williams, who coached the Jayhawks for 15 years before leaving to return to coach his alma mater. KU has beaten Williams and North Carolina twice in NCAA Tournament games.
"Time heals all wounds," Williams said. "It's taken me time to realize that. I had people disappointed when I left. I love the passion of the Kansas fans. I had 15 great years at Kansas and I loved every day. It's not immoral to love two institutions."
There. Enough of the Ol' Roy Coaching Drama Angle.
While Williams coaching his favorite team against his second favorite team – that's how he describes North Carolina and Kansas – is a juicy story line, this battle for a trip to the Sweet 16 at Cowboys Stadium deserves more attention because of the matchup of two basketball bluebloods plus intriguing strategy and player matchups.
"It's just another game for us," Kansas senior Travis Releford said. "We weren't around when all the history was going on."
The Jayhawks (30-5) are second in NCAA history in victories (2,100) while the Tar Heels (25-10) are third with 2,090. Kansas is in its 42nd NCAA Tournament, has won 94 NCAA games and three national championships. North Carolina is in its 44th NCAA Tournament, has won 109 NCAA games and five national championships.
Those pedigrees, like the coaching history/drama, have no impact on which team wins.
"North Carolina has a lot of talent," Kansas coach Bill Self said. "They shouldn't be an eight seed. They watch us play on TV, we watch them play on TV. We like playing teams with 'the name.'"
The Tar Heels are a No. 8 seed because they started 10-5, losing three of five teams as 2012 turned to 2013. One of those losses came at Texas and the other two losses came in Atlantic Coast Conference games.
At that point, Williams did something he has never done as a head coach – he changed his team's playing style. For 25 years, Williams has relied on strong post players to score from the block. He realized the Tar Heels lacked that type of player.
Williams removed 6-9 Desmond Hubert from the lineup and replaced him with 6-5 P.J. Hairston. The four-guard look made the Heels sleeker and more dangerous.
"It was scary," Williams said. "I'm still not comfortable with it. I'm comfortable with having big post guys. You need to get your five best players on the floor. The players had to buy in and they should get the credit for working on what they needed to do. They've gotten better as the season has gone on."
In Friday night's victory over No. 9 seed Villanova, North Carolina made 11 3-pointers and have been in double digits in 3-pointers in four of its last six games. For Kansas, the challenge will be guarding a team that spreads the floor. Western Kentucky did that and pulled 7-foot shot blocker Jeff Withey away from the basket. Iowa State had a similar game plan in its three games with the Jayhawks.
Kansas leads Division I in field goal percentage defense. In the second half of their nerve-wracking victory over Western Kentucky, the Jayhawks limited the Hilltoppers to 20 percent shooting in the second half.
"They're good defensively, they're long, athletic," Williams said of Kansas' defense, which is limiting foes to 36.3 percent shooting. "If you have a shot blocker it takes away second shots. You have guys on the perimeter who can stop penetration. Their number one objective is to give you one bad shot."
Hairston basically matches the power forward spot for North Carolina while 6-9 James Michael McAdoo occupies the "five" or center spot. That means that KU power forward Kevin Young will need to step out and play defense on the perimeter.
"It's fun," Young said. "We need to get out and challenge and close out on the perimeter. It sort of creates a wide open type of game."
"North Carolina is a fast-paced team that likes to shoot threes," Young said. "We'll need to try and run 'em off the (3-point) line and focus on our man. I think it's gonna be fun for us. And they've got to guard us, too."
Kansas finished off Western Kentucky close to midnight Friday night. It's a typical turnaround and preparation time for teams that earn the right to play a second game. Kansas, though, sees similarity between the Tar Heels and Iowa State, a team the Jayhawks beat three times.
"There are some similarities with Iowa State, but North Carolina doesn't run the same stuff," Self said. "We haven't played against a four-man that can stretch it and shoot it like Hairston. The fact that we've played somebody that can stretch you from all four spots will help us in preparation."