North Carolina returns to the court Sunday afternoon for a Round of 32 showdown with Creighton in the Greensboro Coliseum. Gametime is scheduled for approximately 5:15 pm. Tar Heel Illustrated previews the game:
No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 8 Creighton in the Third Round of the NCAA Tournament
Location: Greensboro, NC
Venue: Greensboro Coliseum
Tip-off: Sunday at 5:15 PM ET
North Carolina: 30-5, 14-2 ACC (Beat No. 16 Vermont 77-58).
Creighton: 29-5, 14-4 Missouri Valley (Beat No. 9 Alabama 58-57).
Series history: The Tar Heels are 2-0 all-time against the Blue Jays. UNC has not played Creighton since Dec. 12, 1970.
What's on the line? It is win or go home. The victorious team will travel to St. Louis to play in the Sweet 16.
Sunday's game between the Heels and Blue Jays is not merely a reunion for two friends, but a matchup between two former high school teammates now turned opponents as Ames High School alums Harrison Barnes and Doug McDermott square off for the goal to survive and advance.
The last time Barnes and McDermott played on the same court, they were winning a high school state championship together.
"They're really a good basketball team," Roy Williams said. "Doug is a load. He's really a very, very, very effective player. He's had a sensational year for them."
The 6-foot-7, 220-pound sophomore forward, who is the son of Creighton head coach Greg McDermott and a First Team All-America, is the nation's third highest scorer at 23.2 points per game and ranks second in the Missouri Valley Conference in rebounding with 8.2 boards a contest and three-point percentage (.495).
"He's super-efficient whether he's shooting, passing, dribbling, whatever it is he was good at knowing his position on the floor and knowing how to get the shots he needs to get to and capitalize on those," Barnes said.
Against the SEC's best scoring defense in Alabama (58.1 points allowed per game) McDermott was denied the looks he often gets early in the game, but his patience and perseverance paid dividends as he scored a very workman-like 16 points (6-12 FG, 1-2 three-point, 3-4 free throws) and pulled down 10 rebounds.
James Michael McAdoo followed McDermott's big-time performance with an impressive one of his own, scoring a career-high 17 points, ripping down six rebounds and making four steals against the Catamounts in place of the injured John Henson.
"You can't teach in-game experience," Kendall Marshall said. "It's something you can only learn from being out there and with McAdoo, Justin Watts and P.J. [Hairston] the more that they're in there and getting comfortable it's huge for our team."
Despite McAdoo's rapid maturation the last two weeks Carolina is in a defensive dilemma without Henson in the lineup, which makes matching up with McDermott even more difficult. This may prove to be especially true if the Tar Heels are forced to go with a smaller lineup, which would enable McDermott to use his strength.
Henson's length would be difficult for McDermott to shoot over and to get the touches he needs to be effective as a scorer.
Creighton will burn North Carolina if the Heels overcompensate defensively in their efforts to slow down McDermott.
Perimeter defense which has been a problem most of this season has improved as the Tar Heels are doing a better job of fighting through and around screens to deny good looks from three, but it must be at its best against the hot-shooting Jays.
"We're not going to change anything that we do," McDermott said. "We're going to shoot a ton of threes, we're going to try to fly it up-and-down the floor, just like we have played all year. You can't change anything at this stage."
The Blue Jays knocked down 9-21 three-point attempts (42.9-percent) in their win over the Crimson Tide, and have shot 42.5-percent from downtown this season.
Alabama slowed Gregory Echenique down in the first half, but the 6-foot-9, 270-pounder from Venezuela neutralized JaMychal Green in the second half to finish with six points and five rebounds. McDermott will need more support from him if Creighton hopes to advance.
The pace Bama set was not what the Blue Jays prefer, but they made the necessary adjustments to be successful. UNC will bring the pace back up, but maybe at a level Creighton cannot keep up with. Tyler Zeller's ability to run the court may wear out Echenique, rendering him useless.
This is where Grant Gibbs' role as a stabilizer is key for the Jays. Of course he scored 10 points, had six rebounds and dished out four assists to one turnover, but more importantly he calmed Creighton when the tide was turning in Alabama's favor as the Blue Jays trailed by 11 with 17:33 remaining in regulation.
Marshall must counter Gibbs' effort to control the tempo with an even faster, but controlled pace than what the Crimson Tide set in their 16-2 spurt that ran from near the end of the first half to the early part of the second.