Marquette, one of two Big East teams remaining in the NCAA tournament, will play North Carolina on March 25 in the Sweet 16.
How Marquette got there: The Golden Eagles hung on for a 66-62 win over Syracuse, although there was some controversy with the officiating at the end. With 52 seconds left and the score tied at 59, Dion Waiters inbounded the ball to Scoop Jardine at halfcourt. The pass sailed wide and Jardine, instead of letting it bounce into the backcourt, tip-toed the halfcourt line and was called for over-and-back. Darius Johnson-Odom hit the go-ahead 3 on the following possession, and Marquette moved on to the Sweet 16 for the first time since Dwyane Wade lead the Golden Eagles to the Final Four in 2003.
But in hindsight John Adams, the NCAA’s head of officiating, said the over-and-back call was a mistake. “I have reviewed the play in question and it appears from the video that we have seen, that an error was made in applying the backcourt violation rule,” Adams said in a statement. “The Syracuse player made a legal play and no violation should have been called.”
How North Carolina got there: It was a wacky final 17.3 seconds to a thrilling game between the Tar Heels and Washington Huskies. With Washington down 84-80, Terrence Ross hit a 3-pointer to pull the Huskies to within one. UNC’s Kendall Marshall then missed the front end of 1-and-1, but Venoy Overton couldn’t capitalize with a runner in the lane. Washington would get another chance after the ball bounced off a Tar Heels player, but Dexter Strickland stole the inbounds pass and was fouled. He hit two free throws with 5.4 seconds left to give North Carolina a 86-83 lead.
That’s when things got really interesting. Overton launched a 3 from half court expecting to be fouled, but the foul never came and the ball sailed out of bounds. The only problem for North Carolina was that John Henson inexplicably touched the ball before it went out of bounds, giving Washington another chance. But in another case of poor officiating, the crew only put half a second on the clock, when replays showed that it should’ve been reset to at least 1.1 seconds.
And the controversy still wasn’t over. Henson made another questionable decision, swiping at Isaiah Thomas’ potential game-tying 3 right before it hit the rim. No goaltending was called, although in hindsight, Thomas’ foot was on the line, and it would’ve only counted for two points. Either way, North Carolina advanced to the region semifinal for the 31st time and the 24th time since 1975.
Golden Eagles to watch: Marquette’s “Big 3” consists of Darius Johnson-Odom (16.0 points per game), Jimmy Butler (15.8) and Jae Crowder (11.8). All three have a chance of taking over the game at any point, and Buzz Williams employs an offense that prefers to shoot early in the shot clock.
Tar Heels to watch: Harrison Barnes and Tyler Zeller combine for 30.7 points per game, but guard Kendall Marshall is the player that makes it all work. The freshman point guard averages 6.1 assists per game and had 14 helpers against Washington, setting a school record for most assists in a tournament game. Kenny Smith had 12 in 1987.
Key to the game (Marquette): Can Marquette contain North Carolina bigs John Henson and Tyler Zeller? If the game against Syracuse is any indication, the answer is yes. Rick Jackson was held to just seven points and four rebounds thanks to Chris Otule and Crowder. The two will need the same kind of effort against the Tar Heels.
Key to the game (UNC): Marshall is having an impressive showing in his freshman season at point guard. But Marquette is the kind of team that loves to force turnovers and get out in transition. While Marshall does average over six assists a game, he also averages 2.5 turnovers. UNC will need to take care of the ball if it wants to win.
Prediction: This game has shootout written all over it. Both teams average around 76 points per game, and both love running and gunning. But in the end, North Carolina’s tandem of Zeller and Henson prove to be too much for the Golden Eagles. North Carolina 81, Marquette 77.