Lawson’s toe seems fine, Tar Heels advance

When I filled out my bracket, I felt that North Carolina’s chances were tied to the health of Ty Lawson’s toe. And I still think so.

The ACC POY had to sit out the ACC tournament to allow the swelling to go down. And this wasn’t just any swelling; Dick Vitale said that the toe was “cartoonishly” swollen (and I think he just made that word up). This is obviously a huge concern for North Carolina.

He injured the toe on March 6 and played two days later against Duke, scoring 13 points (on 2 of 7 shooting) and dishing out nine assists. He sat out both of North Carolina’s ACC tournament games, and the Tar Heels lost to Florida State. They aren’t the same team without him.

I think that UNC can get past the first two rounds even if Ty Lawson isn’t 100%. But I’m not sure that they can get by Gonzaga without him playing at a high level. This is probably the biggest “IF” of the entire tournament. If Lawson can play at 90-95%, then the Tar Heels are probably the tournament favorite. If he can’t, then they could easily lose before the Final Four.

So how do we handle this? Well, for the purposes of a single bracket, I’m going to wager that a “cartoonishly” swollen toe isn’t going to be 90-95% healed in time for the tournament. I don’t particularly like Oklahoma or Syracuse to beat them unless Lawson is out or very limited, so I am going to put the Tar Heels through to the Final Four. If I were in two or more brackets, I’d have one where North Carolina loses in the Final Four semis, and one where they lose to Gonzaga in the Sweet Sixteen. The bottom line is that I’m betting that Lawson’s toe is not good enough for him to play at a high level for six games over the next three weeks.

If Lawson had been healthy heading into the tournament, I would have picked the Tar Heels over Connecticut for the title. I haven’t seen a guy play this well on a bum toe, so either it wasn’t ever as bad as it seemed, or Lawson has a tremendous ability to play with pain. I’m bummed about my bracket blowing up in my face (thanks, Pitt), but I feel like my original take sans health issues — UNC & UConn — was spot on, but I couldn’t in good conscience pick a team whose best player was gimpy with a bum toe. Simply stated, I guessed wrong on Lawson’s toe.

I think we’ll see a UNC-UConn final, but Michigan State and Villanova are both playing their best basketball of the season. It should be an interesting Final Four.

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