NEWARK, N.J. - It's easy to get carried away with the makeup of the rosters of North Carolina and Marquette in trying to determine which side has the advantage in the East Regional semifinals of the NCAA tournament.
The Tar Heels traditionally go after highly sought-after high school recruits and get their share of them. The Golden Eagles have pursued the junior college route since Buzz Williams became head coach in 2008, with five such transfers being key members of this year's team.
But when they come out for the opening tip Friday night at the Prudential Center, the players won't think of high school clippings or how they got there. They'll simply play ball for a shot at Sunday's regional final.
"I don't think we're playing to our high school talents," said Marquette's Darius Johnson-Odom, who hit the go-ahead three-point basket with 25 seconds left in last Sunday's third-round win over Syracuse. "We're not thinking about that. We're both in the Sweet 16, and we're both really good teams.
"We can't think about what we have been through and what they have been through as players. All we are focused on is the game [on Friday] against North Carolina."
The Golden Eagles (22-14), seeking their first Final Four berth since the 2003 team that starred Dwyane Wade, advanced as an 11th seed. The No. 2 Tar Heels (28-7) came on in the second half of the season with 16 wins in their last 18 games.
North Carolina coach Roy Williams said he felt the best thing about the path taken by Marquette players is the chemistry and camaraderie it has created.
"It's the feeling those guys have for each other," Williams said. "That's directly related to the job that Buzz and his staff have done - talking about the name on the front of the jersey and not the name on the back. Those kids are hungry and they've bought into it."
The Tar Heels have succeeded this season with young players - three freshmen and three sophomores among their top seven scorers. Two first-year players have been pivotal to their late-season run.
Harrison Barnes, who came to Chapel Hill as the top high school recruit in the nation, shook off the pressure of expectations to lead the team in scoring. Kendall Marshall took over as starting point guard on Jan. 18 against Clemson, the start of the Tar Heels' 16-2 spurt, and topped the ACC in assists at 6.1 per game.
It's only a small part of the entire Carolina team, one that concerns Buzz Williams.
"They have three or four long-tenured NBA players on their team," he said. "They are as fast as anybody in the country in the first 10 seconds of a possession. That will cause great problems for us, as it has every other opponent they have played this year."
One of the Golden Eagles who couldn't find a home out of high school is 6-foot-7 senior swingman Jimmy Butler, whose averages of 15.8 points and 6.1 rebounds are second on the team in each category.
"I had the grades coming out of high school, but not the exposure," Butler said, adding that junior college "really exposed me to big-time college basketball going up against different kinds of competition. The jump to Marquette and Buzz was just phenomenal for me and put me in the greatest position to be successful."
Whatever the situation of Marquette's nomadic player, the Golden Eagles have the respect of the Tar Heels.
"At the end of the day, it's two high-level basketball teams," Carolina sophomore forward John Henson said. "Whatever route they took, they are here now, and we just have to be able to play and see if we can win."