When Kendall Marshall landed awkwardly on his right wrist on a drive with 10:56 remaining in North Carolina’s round-of-32 matchup with Creighton, it was hard to predict that the seemingly innocuous tumble would have such drastic implications for a Tar Heels squad bent on reaching its third Final Four in the last five years.
Marshall, a Cousy Award finalist, would play seven more minutes before being pulled out of the game with just under two minutes remaining. It was only after the Tar Heels’ 14-point victory that its star point guard would learn that he had suffered a fractured wrist, an injury that prevented him from playing in his team’s overtime victory over Ohio and may keep him out for the rest of the Tournament.
Freshman Stilman White—who averaged 4.5 minutes per game in the regular season—was called upon to replace Marshall in the Tar Heels’ Sweet 16 victory over the Bobcats. White finished with two points and six assists in 32 minutes, committing zero turnovers and limiting Bobcats star guard D.J. Cooper to a nightmarish 3-20 shooting performance. While White’s mistake free, turnover-averse performance was just enough to overcome an upset-minded Bobcats squad, the Tar Heels will find themselves needing more from the point guard position in their Elite 8 matchup with Kansas.
More specifically, they will find themselves wishing they had Marshall, the one player with the talent, creativity, and superb assist-turnover ratio (3.48) that makes the Tar Heels’ coterie of front court studs—a group of future NBA first-rounders that includes John Henson, Tyler Zeller and Harrison Barnes—nearly impossible to guard.
Marshall may not be the best player on North Carolina’s roster, but he is its most irreplaceable. He is the reason that Zeller, Barnes and Henson have gotten so many easy buckets this year, the reason that the Tar Heels ranked second in the nation in points scored per game (81.4), and the reason that bracket-fillers across the nation chose North Carolina as the second-most likely team to cut down the nets in New Orleans.
He is the quarterback of the Tar Heels’ high-octane offense. And when I say quarterback, I’m referring to the non-Tebow variety. Without Marshall, the Tar Heels are far-less imposing on the offensive end of the floor. Had he played Friday night, Marshall would have killed the Bobcats’ upset bid long before it reached overtime.
This is not at all a knock on White, who played surprisingly well in Marshall’s absence. While the freshman did nothing in particular to help the Tar Heels edge the Bobcats in overtime, he did nothing to hurt their chances, either. White was the only North Carolina player Friday not to commit a turnover.
But simply not making mistakes won’t be enough for the Tar Heels to win a championship. Without Marshall’s play-making ability, Roy Williams’ squad will likely meet their death knell when they face the Jay Hawks on Sunday.
Chris Johnson is a sports writer for The Daily Northwestern. He is also the Michigan beat writer for bigtenorbust.com and a writer for WildcatReport.com (Northwestern Rivals). Follow him @chrisdjohnsonn. contact: firstname.lastname@example.org