All in the wrist: North Carolina future hinges on Marshall's injury

by | CBSSports.com
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GREENSBORO, N.C. -- North Carolina head coach Roy Williams choked up as he began to speak with the media following the Tar Heels' 87-73 victory over Creighton on Sunday. He had cleared the locker room to address the team moments before, and the whispers suggested it had to do with star point guard Kendall Marshall.

Williams gave the official word. Kendall Marshall had a fracture in the scaphoid bone of his right wrist -- a potentially devastating blow to the title hopes of the No. 1 seed in the Midwest.

Marshall was superb in the winning effort. He was the conductor of the full-steam-ahead attack that relentlessly kept Creighton on its heels. Defensive rebounds were turned into fast break points, Creighton's double-teams on the post were turned into open 3-pointers, and at the center of the success was Kendall Marshall.

Saturday's 18 point, 11 assist performance was a perfect example of how important Marshall is to this Carolina squad. How would North Carolina be able to run the high-octane attack without their floor leader?

Roy Williams used some version of the phrase "We don't know" in three of his first five sentences to the media. North Carolina had just put together one of its most impressive offensive and defensive performances of the past two weeks, and confidence coming off the win had been replaced with the dreaded unknown.

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Can the Tar Heels still make it to New Orleans if Kendall Marshall can't play next weekend in the Regional Semifinals in St. Louis?

We don't know.

Marshall's injury is the fourth in a long line of serious setbacks for the 2011-12 Tar Heels. Leslie McDonald underwent knee surgery before the season and is redshirting, Dexter Strickland tore his ACL in January, and most recently John Henson missed three games because of his own wrist injury.

Another Tar Heel has stepped up each time, allowing North Carolina (31-5) to keep rolling. Reggie Bullock and P.J. Hairston have developed into dangerous sharp-shooting guards with an ability to crash the boards. Freshman James Michael McAdoo has taken advantage of extra minutes in Henson's absence to build his confidence and is playing his best basketball.

Can the same be done if Kendall Marshall can't play on Friday? We don't know.

Williams said the point guard responsibilities likely would fall on the shoulders of freshman Stillman White and senior Justin Watts, one of two Heels with Final Four experience. White has been the backup point guard all season, filling in for Marshall in short bursts, averaging less than one point and one assist in little more than four minutes a game.

They are the answers to who replaces Marshall if he can't play. But there is a bigger question: Can North Carolina win without Kendall Marshall?

The answer, for now, is we don't know.

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