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April 4, 2008

Who has the edge: Kansas vs. North Carolina

VIDEO: Kansas vs. North Carolina video preview | MORE: Rivals.com NCAA Tourney Central

Rivals.com college basketball writer Andrew Skwara breaks down the national semifinal matchup between Kansas and North Carolina.

KANSAS (35-3) VS. NORTH CAROLINA (36-2), 8:47 p.m.
Ty Lawson vs. Russell Robinson
EDGE: North Carolina Nobody in the college ranks may be faster with the ball in their hands than Lawson, a 5-foot-11 sophomore who ignites the Tar Heels' high-powered offense. Lawson's speed often leads to fast-break opportunities, and his ability to penetrate and dish frequently creates easy baskets for teammates. He is an average outside shooter at best, but is very accurate shooting floaters in the lane. Robinson excels on defense. A three-time member of the Big 12's all-defensive team, the 6-1 senior has racked up 224 steals over the past three seasons. On offense, Robinson is a pass-first point guard. He is a subpar outside shooter, getting most of his baskets in transition.
Wayne Ellington vs. Mario Chalmers
EDGE: Kansas Ellington, a 6-4 sophomore, is the better scorer. Ellington averages 16.6 points per game to Chalmers' 12.7. But Chalmers, a 6-1 junior, is far more versatile and efficient. Chalmers is the Jayhawks' best passer, defender and outside shooter. Able to play the point or off the ball, he led the Jayhawks in assists and led the Big 12 in steals for the second consecutive season. Chalmers is shooting 52 percent from the field and 47 percent from 3-point range. He enters on a hot streak, having made 18 of 34 (52.9 percent) 3-pointers in his past five games. Ellington, who plays almost exclusively on the wing, has given the Tar Heels a second major scoring threat. He has scored in double figures in 33 games.
Marcus Ginyard vs. Brandon Rush
EDGE: Kansas Expect Ginyard to defend Rush whenever they're in the game at the same time. Ginyard, a 6-5 junior and defensive specialist, always matches up with the opponent's top perimeter scorer. Rush, a 6-6 junior, fits that label for KU. Rush bounced back from an ACL tear in the offseason to lead the well-balanced Jayhawks in scoring at 13.1 points per game. A good 3-point shooter who has the athleticism to play at the next level, he has been solid in the NCAA Tournament. The former five-star recruit is averaging 14.5 points and 5.7 rebounds through the first four rounds. He doesn't pile up steals like Robinson or Chalmers, but he is a good one-on-one defender. Ginyard rarely looks to create his own shot, but must be accounted for in rebounding battles.
Deon Thompson vs. Darrell Arthur
EDGE: Kansas Arthur may be the most physically gifted player on Kansas' roster. Blessed with great athleticism and a long wingspan, the 6-9 sophomore runs the court well and has a soft shooting touch. Arthur ranks second on the Jayhawks in scoring (12.7 ppg) and rebounding (6.1 rpg). But he hasn't been as big a factor recently, averaging just 7.6 points and 4.3 rebounds in his past three NCAA tourney games. Thompson, a 6-8 sophomore, is a true post player. He scores most of his points around the basket. He also is a solid rebounder.
Tyler Hansbrough vs. Darnell Jackson
EDGE: North Carolina Hansbrough already has cemented a legacy as one of the greatest players in UNC history. A three-time All-American, the 6-9 junior is enjoying his best season. Hansbrough is averaging a career-high 22.8 points and 10.3 rebounds. He's best-known for creating contact and drawing fouls. However, he showed off his shooting range in UNC's 83-73 victory over Louisville in the East Region final. Hansbrough connected on a series of clutch jump shots in the final minutes. Jackson, a 6-8 senior, does most of his damage on the glass. He leads the Jayhawks in rebounding at 6.7 per game. He is the worst post defender of the Jayhawks' three big men, which may put him on the bench more than usual.
EDGE: North Carolina This matchup will feature two the nation's top sixth men. North Carolina's Danny Green helps out in almost every area, averaging 11.2 points, 4.9 rebounds, 1.2 steals and 1.2 blocks. Kansas guard Sherron Collins is a former McDonald's All-American and has the speed and explosiveness to blow past just about any defender. Look for Kansas senior center Sasha Kaun (7.3 ppg) to play a bigger role. Kaun is the Jayhawks' best post defender and will be used to help slow Hansbrough. UNC also has a more-than-adequate backup point guard in Quentin Thomas, who flourished when Lawson missed six regular-season games with an ankle injury.
EDGE: North Carolina North Carolina's Roy Williams is making his sixth trip to the Final Four; he has one title, in 2005. This is the first Final Four for Kansas' Bill Self, who replaced Williams five years ago in Lawrence. Both teams want to run, and nobody teaches how to push the pace or score in transition better than Williams. Self's teams are known for their defensive prowess, and the Jayhawks can struggle to get a high-percentage shot on offense at times. If Williams has a weakness, it may be last-minute X's and O's. Williams' teams have a history of panicking in clutch situations.
Kansas rarely has to worry about keeping pace with an opponent offensively, but it's a real concern against North Carolina. The Tar Heels have more firepower and excel at creating as many possessions as possible. The biggest key for the Jayhawks is getting production from their bench. In their three losses, Collins and Kaun combined to average 8.0 points. That's less than half of their normal average (16.5). The Heels must make sure the game is played at a fast pace, which means knocking down shots early. They are much more vulnerable in half-court sets, particularly on the defensive end.
North Carolina 84, Kansas 73

VIDEO: Kansas vs. North Carolina video preview | MORE: Rivals.com NCAA Tourney Central

Andrew Skwara is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at askwara@rivals.com.

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