The 6-foot-8 Barnes is part of a ferocious, NBA-like front line that may swing the balance of this one.
He’s joined by 7-footer Tyler Zeller, who scored a career-high 32 points Friday, and 6-10 John Henson, who had a career-best 28. Barnes chipped in with 24 points and 16 rebounds.
Reserve 7-footer Aziz N’Diaye is the only Washington player taller than 6-9. Coach Lorenzo Romar, who replaced 6-5 C.J. Wilcox with 6-8 Darnell Gant in the starting lineup Friday to match up with the bigger Bulldogs, was mum on his plans Saturday.
Perhaps more important is how North Carolina’s size will affect Thomas‘ ability to take it to the basket. Marshall said it was important to make Thomas “uncomfortable” and “put him positions that he doesn’t want to be in.”
“You still got to do what’s got you here,” Thomas said. “I’m going to be highly aggressive to make plays for my teammates.”
Washington has plenty of confidence and more experience than the 2009 NCAA champion Tar Heels, who took a detour to the NIT last season. But the venue poses a challenge.
Perhaps the only hope for Washington to gain some support is if fans of hated North Carolina rival Duke, which plays Michigan in the second game at Time Warner Cable Arena, pull for them.
Still, North Carolina is 10-0 in NCAA games in Charlotte and is 28-1 in the state.
“That’s pretty good, but 29-1 will look better,” Marshall said. For that to happen, the Tar Heels will likely need to play better than they did Friday. Williams was upset about the team’s 18 turnovers, poor transition defense and suspect rebounding.
If they struggle again, the energetic, always-smiling Thomas is ready to pounce as he seizes an opportunity to play one of college basketball’s elite programs.
“Michael Jordan, I mean, the best player to ever play the game went there, and then they got a lot of legendary players,” Thomas said. “It’s basically every kid’s dream school. To go to North Carolina or play against them, it’s legendary.”
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