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Without Kennedy Meeks, North Carolina Will Not Upset Wisconsin In Sweet 16
At full strength, No. 4 seed North Carolina, the ACC Tournament runner-up, is good enough to beat top-seeded Wisconsin in their Sweet 16 West Region game in Los Angeles on Thursday night. In fact, I would argue that the Tar Heels would win the game because they simply have much better athletes (and certainly more McDonald's All-Americans).
However, it doesn't appear that North Carolina will be at full strength and thus the Badgers are 6-point favorites at Bovada, with the winner taking on most likely Arizona on Saturday for a trip to the Final Four. The No. 2 Wildcats are double-digit favorites in the late game against No. 6 Xavier.
Big Loss If Meeks Out
The injury of note is to Tar Heels big man Kennedy Meeks. He suffered a sprained left knee Saturday night when Arkansas defender Anthlon Bell took a charge and fell into the big man's left knee. Meeks did not practice with the Tar Heels on Monday, but the 6-foot-9 sophomore did travel with the team to Los Angeles. Coach Roy Williams early this week called Meeks doubtful. Meeks did participate in non-contract drills on Tuesday.
Before leaving Chapel Hill, North Carolina, on Monday, Williams said that if Meeks didn't practice on Wednesday, "it would be hard to play" against the No. 1 seed Badgers. By far North Carolina's most efficient back-to-the-basket scorer, Meeks shoots 56.6 percent from the field and averages 11.6 points per game. He is also North Carolina's leading shot blocker and second-leading rebounder this season.
If Meeks can't play, reserve big man Joel James would be the most likely option to start in his place alongside Brice Johnson in the frontcourt. North Carolina also could go small and insert guard Nate Britt into the lineup instead of James. It's doubtful UNC goes small against a frontcourt that is one of the best in the nation, led by National Player of the Year candidate Frank Kaminsky. If Meeks does play, that line probably drops a couple of points.
The Tar Heels are battle-tested after playing one of the toughest schedules in the country. Entering the NCAA Tournament, North Carolina had played 19 games against teams in the field, going 9-10. In addition, the ACC has been stellar in this tournament with just one loss.
Meanwhile, former Wisconsin starting point guard Traevon Jackson, who has not played since breaking his right foot against Rutgers on Jan. 11, could make his first appearance with the Badgers in 20 games. ackson was medically cleared to participate last week but did not play in Wisconsin's first two NCAA tournament games, saying his status was "90 percent mental." Jackson averaged 9.4 points and 2.9 assists while starting the first 17 games.
Wisconsin escaped Oregon, 72-65, in the Round of 32 but struggled at times to find an offensive rhythm with point guard Bronson Koenig sidelined because of foul trouble and no true point guard to come off the bench. Koenig nearly went to North Carolina out of high school. Koenig and UW junior forward Sam Dekker played with UNC's J.P. Tokoto on the same AAU team, the Wisconsin Playground Warriors.
The total in this game is 144, and that's interesting because the teams play such contrasting styles. The Heels want to get out and run, while Wisconsin plays a rather plodding, deliberate style.
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