NC State-North Carolina Preview


North Carolina entered the ACC tournament in Atlanta hoping a strong showing would help it earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.

Roy Williams also wants his team to be at full strength when it begins its quest for a national title.

The fourth-ranked and top-seeded Tar Heels could be without John Henson, the ACC defensive player of the year, in Saturday's semifinal matchup against a North Carolina State team that could need another win to earn a berth in the NCAAs.

North Carolina (28-4) opened tournament play with an 85-69 win over Maryland on Friday, but it may have come at a cost. Henson, a first-team all-ACC selection, sprained his left wrist after hitting the court hard when fouled driving to the basket early in the game. The 6-foot-11 center went to the locker room for treatment with 13:51 left in the first half, and checked back into the game with his wrist heavily taped with 8:06 remaining. Less than a minute later, however, he exited for good.

"He had trouble catching and gripping the basketball,'' Williams said. "That's his dominant hand, even though he's right-handed.''

No fractures showed up on X-rays taken at halftime, and it is uncertain if Henson, who averages 13.8 points and a league-best 10.1 rebounds, will play against North Carolina State (22-11).

Henson had nine points and 10 rebounds in a 74-55 home win over the Wolfpack on Jan. 26 and 14 points and 13 boards in an 86-74 win at North Carolina State on Feb. 21.

The Tar Heels have won 12 straight over the Wolfpack, including a victory in the 2007 ACC tournament championship game, since an 83-79 loss Feb. 3, 2007, their lone blemish in the last 19 meetings.

Although North Carolina was without one of its top players against the Terrapins, Williams' team hardly seemed like it was short handed.

James Michael McAdoo got extended minutes in Henson's absence and rose to the occasion. The 6-foot-9 freshman matched his career best with 14 points and had a team-high eight rebounds.

"James Michael, he brings that motor,'' Reggie Bullock said.

McAdoo was one of five Tar Heels to reach double figures, as Bullock and Harrison Barnes finished with 15 points apiece. Tyler Zeller scored 14 and Kendall Marshall added 13 and 12 assists.

Marshall had a career-best 22 points and 13 assists against the Wolfpack last month, while Barnes, North Carolina's leader at 17.3 points, scored 20. Zeller, who averages 16.2 points and 9.2 rebounds, led the way in the first meeting with 21 points and 17 boards.

N.C. State advanced to the semifinals after beating Virginia 67-64 in Friday's quarterfinals and Boston College 78-57 Thursday. Sophomore C.J. Leslie had team highs of 19 points and 14 rebounds against the Cavaliers as the Wolfpack bolstered their NCAA tournament resume.

"I think we deserve to play in the NCAA tournament," coach Mark Gottfried said. "We did what we were supposed to do. But I'm not on the committee."

While Gottfried feels good about his team's chances, beating rival North Carolina would seem to all but guarantee an NCAA berth for the Wolfpack. N.C. State could use a signature win having gone 0-7 against Top 25 teams this season.

Leslie, who averages a team-best 14.4 points, scored 24 against the Tar Heels last month but finished with nine points on 3-of-12 shooting in the first meeting.

"We all have got respect for North Carolina's team," Gottfried said. "But when we got on the plane to come here, we came with a goal to win this tournament."

N.C. State hasn't won the conference tournament since 1987.