As the Tar Heels rolled to victory over Creighton on Sunday, they clearly looked like the tournament favorite they were projected to be at the end of last season when it was announced that Barnes, Henson, and Zeller would all return for another year. The injury woes began in the offseason as Leslie McDonald, the Tar Heels' top outside shooter went down to a season ending ACL tear. Dexter Strickland, Carolina's top transition scorer and perimeter defender, as well as the backup point guard, followed suit in January with a season ending injury of the same nature. Neither of these injuries, while difficult obstacles, were impossible to overcome, as sophomore Reggie Bullock has filled in admirably at the 2-guard position. Next came Henson, who just made his return on Sunday against the Bluejays after suffering a wrist injury in the ACC tournament. Even's Henson's injury may not have been life-threatening to the Tar Heels' title chances, as Carolina has a wealth of talent in the front court with both Tyler Zeller and the emergent freshman James Michael Mcadoo.
But Kendall Marshall, now that's a completely different story. Marshall, the Tar Heels' star point guard, has been considered by experts all season to be Carolina's most indispensable player. The initiator of the offense and one of the best passers college basketball has seen in recent years, Marshall has also developed into an effective scorer in recent weeks. Keep in mind, this same Carolina team with Barnes, Henson, and Zeller was 12-5 and unranked at the time last season when Marshall took over the starting point guard role previously held by Larry Drew II. From that point forward, the Tar Heels saw a major transformation, as they lost only 1 more regular season game on their way to a #2 seed and Elite Eight appearance.
With Dexter Strickland out for the season, Carolina is even more limited at the position. If Marshall's injury proves to be serious, the Heels' title dreams will rest on the shoulders of Stilman White. White, a 6'0, 160 lb. freshman, has done an acceptable job spelling Marshall for a few minutes each game since Strickland went down for the season. While he has proven not to be a liability, he is by no means an offensive asset, and cannot be relied on to initiate the Tar Heels' fast paced transition attack. If Kendall Marshall really is out for the remainder of the NCAA tournament, North Carolina's hopes for a third title in the Roy Williams era may have finally taken a blow big enough from which they are unable to recover. For the sake of college basketball fans everywhere, let's hope that is not the case.