Contrary to popular belief, Dean Smith vs. Roy Williams won't be the only important matchup in Saturday's North Carolina-Kansas game in the Final Four.
While most of the pregame publicity has focused on the coaching confrontation between Smith and his former assistant, bothsides agree that player performance will play a bigger role in the outcome than sideline strategy.
"Coaches play a big part in preparation, but then it's up to the players," Kansas center Mark Randall said Friday.
"They're both great coaches, but they can't come on the court and play," North Carolina's Rick Fox said.
Williams, who was an assistant under Smith for 10 years before going to Kansas in 1988, admits that he is "awed" by his mentor. But Williams claims he won't be intimidated when he coaches against Smith for the first time.
"Dean Smith is the person I respect more than anybody in college basketball," he said. "But the second person I respect is Bobby Knight. And I would bet that if you ask him right now if he thought that took anything away from our game preparation, he would say no."
Kansas upset Knight's Indiana team 83-65 in the Southeast Regional and went on to reach the Final Four for the third time in six seasons. North Carolina, the East Regional champ, is making its first Final Four appearance since winning the national championship in 1982.
The teams share more than just a coaching connection. Their styles are a mirror image, featuring unselfish passing, pressure defense and frequent substitutions. The similarities extend all the way to the hand signals used by the coaches and players.
"Everything we do we basically got from North Carolina," Kansas forward Alonzo Jamison said. "We play the same offense and the same defense. I think it will come down to who executes the best."
Since Smith and Williams know each other so well, neither team is expecting any last-minute changes in strategy."We're not going to change anything and North Carolina isn't going to change anything," said Randall, the Jayhawks' second-leading scorer and rebounder. "We've been successful up to now with what we do, and we're going to stick with it."
Despite similar styles, North Carolina and Kansas are not clones. The Tar Heels (29-5) are bigger, have a deeper bench and are better free throw shooters. The Jayhawks (26-7) are quicker, make even better backdoor cuts and have a player (senior forward Mike Maddox) with Final Four experience.
Guard Terry Brown is Kansas' top scorer with a 16.4 average, followed by Randall at 14.8, guard Adonis Jordan at 12.4 and Jamison at 10.7.
"You've got to know where Brown is all the time," Smith said. "And Jamison is vastly underrated. He's very quick defensively and he can guard a lot of players. Randall is one of the finest big men in the country because he can play outside as well as inside."
Like Kansas, North Carolina has four players scoring in double figures. Fox leads the way with a 17-point average while guard Hubert Davis, nephew of former Carolina star Walter Davis, is next at 13 per game. Forward George Lynch and center Pete Chilcutt each average just over 12 points.