The news that North Carolina’s starting point guard Kendall Marshall had fractured his right wrist in the Tar Heels’ 87-73 win over Creighton last Sunday was delivered minutes after the game. The magnitude of the injury sent shockwaves throughout the nation. And as one might expect, the reaction was instantaneous, piercing and close to unanimous, as the notion of UNC having to march on in the NCAA tournament without their floor general would be costly.
On Sunday against the Bluejays, Marshall turned in perhaps his best performance of the season, scoring 18 points on 7-of-8 shooting, while dishing out 11 assists, all the while finishing the game, sans injury. It was a stellar outing to say the least, but it was also a scathing reminder as to why North Carolina’s in trouble. Without the Cousy Award finalist, conventional wisdom holds that the top-seeded Tar Heels’ chances of winning a national championship this season are slim. The student-body at Chapel Hill unwillingly acknowledges the fact that this unfortunate event perhaps will reduce their team’s hopes of cutting down the nets in New Orleans next month, with no signs of rescue anywhere in sight.
The Tars Heels have been plagued with injury all season. North Carolina lost backup point/shooting guard Dexter Strickland to a knee injury in January. Starting center John Henson was sidelined after spraining his left wrist in the team’s quarterfinal game against the Maryland Terrapins in the ACC tournament and was forced to sit out in the Heels’ ACC finals defeat to Florida State and their opening round NCAA tournament win against Vermont. Hope was restored on Sunday when Henson returned to the starting lineup and helped UNC take down Creighton and advance to the Sweet Sixteen. But now all seems lost again with the recent status of Marshall.
The sophomore point guard, who is fourth in the nation in assists with 10.5 per game, underwent successful surgery on Monday morning to insert a screw into his broken wrist. Marshall’s cast was removed on Wednesday and he is now wearing a removable splint on the injured wrist. His status for North Carolina’s Midwest region semifinal game against the 13th-seeded Ohio Bobcats on Friday remains uncertain. And although the injury was sustained to his non-shooting hand, without the full-usage of his right, Marshall’s duties at point guard would be limited, if not hindered, if reinserted into the lineup on Friday.
UNC head coach Roy Williams reiterated on Wednesday that the Tar Heels are preparing to move ahead without Marshall and he doesn’t foresee his star guard’s return anytime soon. The Heels’ will rotate freshman Stilman White (who averages 4.3 minutes per game) and senior Justin Watts (who has played only two stints at point this season) at guard in place of Marshall. Yet, despite their weakness at point, Williams still has ACC Player of the Year Tyler Zeller, Harrison Barnes and Henson to manage–and control–-North Carolina’s tournament odds. Freshman forward James Michael McAdoo seems to improve and develop with each game and sophomore guard Reggie Bullock has been a consistent 3-point threat for the Tar Heels, shooting 38 percent from behind the arc. And with a team stacked with McDonald’s All-Americans, what the Tar Heels lack in depth at the point guard position they make up for with their in-your-shorts defense.
We can all agree that North Carolina’s chances of winning the national championship has become a more daunting task without Marshall, but the fact remains that the Tar Heels are still contenders in the NCAA tournament. And if you know like I know, they have just as much of a chance as the other teams in the field at seizing that one shining moment. Don’t count out Tar Heel blue just yet.