North Carolina Tar Heels: 2012 NCAA tournament

Kansas has finest finishing touch

March, 25, 2012
In a highly anticipated matchup between two of the three winningest programs in college basketball, the Kansas Jayhawks beat the North Carolina Tar Heels 80-67 to advance to their 14th Final Four and first since 2008.

This was the fifth all-time meeting between Kansas and North Carolina in the NCAA tournament (Kansas now leads 3-2) and the first since the Jayhawks beat the Tar Heels in the 2008 Final Four. The winner of the previous four showdowns has gone on to win the national title.

Kansas is now 4-0 versus No. 1 seeds in the regional finals, having also beaten Arkansas in 1991, Indiana in 1993 and Arizona in 2003. That matches Duke for the most such wins by any school, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Why Kansas won
The Jayhawks ended the game on 12-0 run, sparked by a 3-pointer from Elijah Johnson with 3:07 left that gave Kansas a 71-67 lead it would not relinquish. Kansas forced North Carolina to miss all six of its field goal attempts in the final three minutes, including four shots from beyond the arc.

Kansas proved it could run with the Tar Heels, outscoring North Carolina 18-8 in transition during the game. The Jayhawks were the first team to outscore the Tar Heels in transition over the last three NCAA tournaments.

Tyshawn Taylor shined for the Jayhawks, leading all scorers with 22 points and added five assists and five steals.

He is first player to reach each of those totals in an NCAA tournament game since Georgetown’s Allen Iverson had 32 points, five steals and five assists in 1996.

Why North Carolina lost
Leading by 5 with less than 9 minutes to go, Kansas switched from man-to-man to a triangle-and-two hybrid zone defense. The Tar Heels' offense went cold against the zone, making just two shots on their final 12 half-court possessions.

Overall, North Carolina struggled with its perimeter shooting against the Jayhawks.

The Tar Heels made just 2 of 17 shots (12 percent) from beyond the arc, their second-worst 3-point shooting effort in an NCAA tournament game in school history.

North Carolina also missed Kendall Marshall’s ability to lead the Tar Heels’ fastbreak offense.

Without Marshall at the helm, the Tar Heels did not run as much in the tournament, averaging nearly eight fewer transition plays and 11 fewer points per game in its last two contests compared to its first two.

What’s next
Kansas advances to the Final Four in New Orleans to face the Ohio State Buckeyes in a national semifinal game. This will be just the second meeting of 2-seeds in the NCAA tournament. The only other was the 1995 semifinal, when Arkansas beat North Carolina, 75-68.
ST. LOUIS -- North Carolina point guard Kendall Marshall participated in some non-contact shooting, passing and dribbling drills during practice Saturday.

But the sophomore Cousy Award finalist said he would not have played if the Tar Heels' regional final was that day.

As for Sunday, when the top-seeded Tar Heels face No. 2 seed Kansas?

"I don't know," Marshall said in the locker room at the Edward Jones Dome, his right wrist and elbow wrapped in ice. "We'll see tomorrow. We'll see how I feel after shootaround. ...

"As of right now, it's like yesterday: I'm not playing. But if I do continue to feel better, there's no telling -- I could be out there playing."

The health of Marshall -- a left-handed ball handler who fractured his right wrist this past Sunday, had surgery to insert a screw in it Monday and had his hard cast replaced with a stabilizing brace Wednesday -- has been under constant scrutiny since the injury. UNC managed to beat No. 13 seed Ohio without him, in overtime on Friday, but the offense looked out of sync and the Tar Heels committed a season-high 24 turnovers.

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ST. LOUIS -- Ohio point guard D.J. Cooper received so many messages after his 13th-seeded team topped South Florida to reach the NCAA Sweet 16 that he couldn’t keep count.

But the most special one came from his mom, Dionne.

“She has this habit of texting me during the game -- even though I can’t read them until after," he said, noting that he’ll sometimes have five or six waiting for him after the final horn. “In this one, she told me how proud she was of me, and how much she loved me. She always does … but that was an especially good feeling, in that moment.”

[+] EnlargeD.J. Cooper
Tim G. Zechar/Icon SMIOhio point guard D.J. Cooper can score, but his defense has proved to be just as dangerous.
The goal now: to experience a similar feeling (and moment) after his team’s matchup with top-seeded North Carolina on Friday night at the Edward Jones Dome.

With Tar Heels point guard Kendall Marshall’s availability in doubt after surgery to repair his fractured wrist Monday, Cooper’s play will be especially key to whether the Bobcats -- the lowest-seeded squad to make a regional semifinal since Bradley in 2006 -- keep their postseason run alive.

The 5-foot-11 athlete from Chicago averages 14.9 points, but more importantly, 2.3 steals a game on a team that ranks fourth in the nation in swipes per contest (9.3 per game) and sixth in turnover margin (plus-4.2).

That’s important against a foe that might have to start a freshman point guard (Stilman White) who is averaging only 4.3 minutes per game.

“All year, coach has been talking about playing with our hands up, keeping it tight, being able to guard our yard," Cooper said. “And that’s what we have to do Friday, too, no matter which [point] guard we’re playing against.”

Also key against the Tar Heels will be getting back in transition. Not only does UNC play fast but it boasts one of the best frontcourts in the country in 7-foot Tyler Zeller, 6-11 John Henson and 6-8 Harrison Barnes. The tallest contributors in the Bobcats’ rotation are 6-8, and no one averages more than five rebounds per game.

Still, Henson called Ohio a dangerous team.

“They're shooting better than they shot all year, 3-point wise, playing more confident," he said. “I mean, even in practice, when our [scout] guys are running their offense, it's tough to guard. So it's going to be a challenge, and we're going to play hard and see what happens.”

Ohio coach John Groce said his team is preparing as if Marshall will play but has contingency plans if he does not.

And even though he doesn’t know exactly who his opponent will be, Cooper is sure of one thing: His mom will be sending texts throughout the game, offering comments and feedback.

“It’s fun to look back and read what she was thinking," he said, smiling.

He hopes that looking back after Friday’s game will give him that especially good feeling again.


OHIO: Cooper. The junior is a do-it-all guy, averaging 20 points, 4 rebounds and 6 assists in the NCAA tournament. “He's really a gifted kid who, the last couple games, has really been dominant for them," UNC coach Roy Williams said.

NORTH CAROLINA: White and Justin Watts. UNC’s bigger guys should be able to have big games -- if the fill-in point guards can get them the ball. White and Watts, the third and fourth ballhandling options at the beginning of the season, have 24 assists combined this season. Marshall, by comparison, had 21 in his previous two games. Williams has stressed that these two don’t need to play like the Cousy Award finalist, but they do need to protect the ball from the thief-prone Bobcats and get it into the hands of the playmakers.

WHAT TO WATCH: Outside vs. inside.

Ohio has made 15 of 34 3-pointers in the NCAA tournament, led by Cooper and Walter Offutt. That’s been an Achilles' heel for the Tar Heels, who struggled against foes (at Florida State and versus Duke, for instance) that got hot from behind the arc.

North Carolina, meanwhile, is at its best when its frontcourt is playing its best. UNC needs Zeller, Henson, Barnes and James Michael McAdoo to use their size advantage on the boards -- and to finish plays.

Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Top-seeded North Carolina is preparing "100 percent" to play without point guard Kendall Marshall on Friday in the NCAA Midwest Region semifinals, coach Roy Williams said Tuesday.

There is still a chance that the Cousy Award finalist -- who had surgery Monday to insert a screw into his fractured right wrist -- could play against 13th-seeded Ohio. But right now, Williams said, he has "no idea" what factors will indicate whether Marshall can play, because he's in uncharted territory.

"If he comes running in here now and says, 'God, I can play!' I'll say, 'Well, let's talk about it,'" said Williams, frustrated with the continued questioning about the nation's assist leader. "But he's in a frickin' cast and I cannot give you any answers. I've given everybody all the answers I can give, because I have said honestly, 'I do not know.'"

Williams said Marshall, who is averaging 9.7 assists per game, did go to classes Tuesday, meaning he would likely be able to fly with the team to St. Louis when it leaves Wednesday night.

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North Carolina coach Roy Williams wishes the foul that caused point guard Kendall Marshall to hit the floor and fracture his right wrist Sunday wasn’t quite so hard.

But, he said on his Monday night radio show, “I don’t think it was unnecessarily rough.”

Marshall got hurt with 10:56 left at the Greensboro Coliseum on Sunday night when the sophomore point guard -- who naturally shoots left-handed -- was driving the lane for a right-handed layup. He was fouled hard by Creighton's Ethan Wragge and injured the wrist when he crashed to the floor.

[+] EnlargeKendall Marshall
AP Photo/Chuck BurtonKendall Marshall broke his right wrist during this play on Sunday.
Williams said he’s seen replays and still photos, and believes Wragge was going for the ball.

“You’re talking to a guy that in the last two weeks has screamed so hard, has been so mad, at Kendall Marshall because he has fouled guys going in for a layup the way I would give my grandson a love pat,’’ Williams said. “... And I say, ‘Kendall, I don’t mind if you foul him, but don’t let him make the dadgum layup, too. ... Don’t give him a freakin’ love pat, and get the foul and give him a free throw.'

“How can I be disappointed when a guy makes a foul and doesn’t let a guy get up a layup -- unless it’s a flagrant foul? And I would look at that play, and every official would look at that play, and they would not call that a flagrant foul.”

What was flagrant, Williams believes, was a no-call in the first half when Gregory Echenique’s forearms sent UNC 7-footer Tyler Zeller flying.

Williams said Bluejays coach Greg McDermott called him Monday morning and told him he had already met with Echenique and told his player that the play was “unacceptable.” Creighton had been getting a lot of negative mail and even some death threats after the game, “which I think is way out of whack,’’ Williams said. “And he said, ‘Coach, I want you to know that we wouldn’t play like that, we don’t play like that.’”

One other foul that drew plenty of attention was the early-game technical on UNC’s John Henson, which occurred after Creighton’s Grant Gibbs swiped down on the ball, hitting Henson’s splinted left wrist (the forward had missed three straight games with a sprain).

Henson had some choice words for Gibbs, drawing the technical. Afterwards, Gibbs was seen winking at his bench, drawing the ire of Tar Heels fans.

Williams didn’t like that Henson was T’d up in that situation, but didn’t seem to mind the wink.

“Guys, I’ve seen hundreds of players that felt like if they got somebody’s goat on the other team, then they would wink at the bench or feel like they’ve accomplished something," Williams said. "The kid supposedly made the statement that he did wink at the bench, but it was that he goaded him into a technical. Would Roy Williams do that? No, I wouldn’t do that. But Michael Jordan would. And I love the ground he walks on. Some people perceive it as being ‘I whacked him on the wrist and I hurt him and he got a technical.’ I didn’t perceive it as being that way.”

Williams said he now considers the matter of the fouls (and no-calls) in the game closed. He also called McDermott a "great coach," and appreciates that McDermott called him to discuss the game and express his sadness that Marshall was hurt.

McDermott also defended the way his team played to the Omaha World-Herald, saying: "Anyone that watched us play 35 games would know that we're the farthest thing from being a physical, rough-housing team. If anything, we've lacked physicality, but now we're being made out to be the team that tried to bully North Carolina.

"The thing we feel bad about is the injury, because I would like to see North Carolina make a great run in this tournament."

He also emphasized that they were not trying to hurt the Cousy Award finalist, telling the World-Herald: "We feel awful that Kendall Marshall got hurt. There was not any malicious intent on Ethan's part. It was just a basketball play and, unfortunately, Kendall landed on his wrist wrong."

Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.

Video: Davis, Bilas on Midwest Region

March, 19, 2012

Hubert Davis and Jay Bilas discuss who needs to step up for North Carolina and if Kansas is now the favorite to win the region.
North Carolina point guard Kendall Marshall had surgery on his fractured right wrist Monday morning, according to team sources.

Details were not immediately available, and it is still not known whether the sophomore will be available to play Friday in the NCAA Regional semifinals against the No. 13-seed Ohio Bobcats.

The No. 1-seeded Tar Heels were hoping to have an update on the Cousy Award finalist later Monday.

Marshall was diagnosed with a fractured scaphoid bone in his right wrist after top-seeded UNC's 87-73 victory over Creighton on Sunday night. He had 18 points and 11 assists in the victory.

Marshall's father wrote on Twitter on Monday afternoon that his son was coming off the anesthesia, and "all Kendall keeps asking for is his teammates."

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Even with Kendall Marshall reportedly having surgery on his fractured wrist Monday, he could still play in the NCAA tournament but time is of the essence for the North Carolina point guard, an expert in hand and wrist injuries said.

Dr. Christopher Sforzo, a Florida-based orthopedic surgeon who works extensively with professional tennis players, told there were basically two options -- immediate surgery, which would stabilize the wrist and give Marshall a chance to play, or to play with a cast.

“It’s a roll of the dice either way,’’ Sforzo said. “If he’s going to have surgery, it would have to be first thing in the morning.’’

Scaphoid fractures are common, especially involving a fall and treatment depends on where the break is, Sforzo said.

If the fracture is at the end of the bone, where the blood supply is best, the bone can heal quickly and usually a cast or splint is all that’s required.

If the break is in the middle or at the beginning of the bone, surgery is typically required, with a screw inserted to stabilize the bone.

Neither scenario is ideal.

“If he wanted to play, it would be difficult with a cast and he’d risk that the bone could move and then he’d need surgery,’’ Sforzo said. “And it would be painful. I wouldn’t say it would be heroic for him to play under those circumstances, but it would be very difficult.

“[With] surgery, in some regards it’s better because the bone is stabilized and there’s no risk. But could he play in four days?’’

But North Carolina, obviously, is up against the clock. The No. 1 seed Tar Heels play Ohio in the Sweet 16 on Friday.

And Marshall is not just any player; he’s a point guard, with the ball in his hand for the bulk of the game.

“His jump shot wouldn’t be a problem,’’ Sforzo said. “But it’s still tough for him to handle the ball with that off hand, to push off and dribble. It’s an interesting conundrum and a real tough break for him, especially at this time of year. Maybe he could play this week, maybe by Saturday if you want to hope you get there. Or do you wait until the Final Four? There's no easy answer.''

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Red-eyed and trying to smile, North Carolina point guard Kendall Marshall talked Sunday night about how proud he was of his team for advancing to the NCAA regional semifinals.

But surrounded by reporters, his fractured right wrist enveloped in ice, it was easy to see he was in pain.

“What hurts the most is that I want to be here for my team and help them out,’’ said Marshall, UNC’s creator, playmaker and one of the nation’s leading assist men. “It’s yet to be determined whether I’ll be able to or not, but we’ll find a way to get through it.”

But this time, could it be too much? Marshall, who finished with 18 points and 11 assists, was diagnosed with a fractured scaphoid bone in his right wrist after top-seeded UNC’s 87-73 victory over Creighton. A team spokesman said he would wear a soft cast Sunday night, but did not know whether the sophomore will be able to play when the Tar Heels face No. 13 seed Ohio in St. Louis on Friday.

The team is hoping there will be an update Monday.

“We’ll speak to the hand specialist tonight with Kendall and his family, and we’ll see what happens after that,’’ an obviously upset UNC coach Roy Williams said after the win.

Later, he added: “When you go to the Sweet 16, it’s supposed to be a lot more fun than this.”

The injury occurred with 10:56 left at Greensboro Coliseum when Marshall -- who naturally shoots left-handed -- was driving the lane for a right-handed layup. He was fouled hard by Bluejay Ethan Wragge, and crashed to the floor.

“I kind of got pushed to the ground,’’ Marshall said. “And I guess when I fell, I hurt my funny bone first, and that’s what I was most worried about. That’s fine. My wrist just got the worst of it.”

[+] EnlargeKendall Marshall
AP Photo/Chuck Burton"He's the best point guard in the nation," UNC star Tyler Zeller said of Kendall Marshall. "He makes this team go."
Asked if he thought it was a clean play, Marshall replied: “It was hard for me to tell. I was focused on making the basket. I watched the replay from one angle, and it was still hard to tell. Hopefully, he had his best intentions in mind of making a team play.”

Marshall didn’t know how bad the injury was at the time, though, making one of two free throws after a media timeout, leaving the game, and then eventually playing another seven-plus minutes.

“I felt the pain, but I didn’t want to make a big deal of it,’’ he said. “I just wanted us to get the win.”

But it may be a costly one.

Marshall is not just the team’s best creator and assist-man, he’s really the only one. Backup Dexter Strickland (who was also the team’s starting shooting guard) was lost for the season in January with a torn ACL. Freshman Stilman White has been spelling Marshall, but only to the tune of 4.2 minutes per game (before Sunday). Senior wing Justin Watts has also played point guard, but only for two stints this season.

“This is big,’’ senior forward Tyler Zeller said. “Kendall’s always been the leader of the team, he’s always been somebody who plays 35-plus minutes per game. … He’s the best point guard in the nation. He makes this team go.”

Indeed, it was Marshall who rallied the Tar Heels last year, when former starter Larry Drew II opted to transfer in the middle of the ACC season. His ability get teammates the ball in the right spots pushed the Tar Heels to a surprising run to the 2011 NCAA regional finals.

This season, his scoring blossomed, as did his ability to rack up assists. Sunday marked his sixth consecutive double-digit game. Meanwhile, he already has set the school and ACC records for assists in a season, and is a Cousy Award finalist.

So stunning was the postgame diagnosis, Williams asked the media to leave the locker room to address the team before heading to the podium for his postgame news conference. What had been a proud, celebratory atmosphere turned to shock and confusion.

“Kendall's an intricate part of the team, to say the least,’’ said junior forward John Henson, who had missed three straight games with a sprained left wrist before returning Sunday "And I know it's going to hurt, but we don't know what his status is, so we're just going to keep praying for him and hoping for the best."

Marshall was hoping Sunday, too -- somehow, for a quick recovery. Until now, he said, the worst injury of his career was a twisted ankle during his junior year of high school.

“And I thought I was ‘the man’ because I played the entire game with it, and I was like, ‘Oh, man, this is some Jordan-type stuff,’” he said, trying to smile.

If there is any positive, it’s that the injury is to his right wrist; had it been his left, Marshall said, he knows he would have no chance to play this week.

Whether he can, anyway, is a serious question.

And what happens if he can't? Even more so.

“Through being banged up, through missing players, we still find a way to go out there to compete,’’ Marshall said, still leading through the pain. “That’s a huge asset to a championship team, and that’s still what we want to be.”

Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.
GREENSBORO, N.C. -- A quick look at UNC-Creighton:

Overview: North Carolina’s John Henson returned. Teammate Kendall Marshall kept going.

With the 6-foot-11 forward back in the starting lineup after missing three games with a sprained left wrist, and the not-so-one-dimensional point guard turning in his sixth straight double-digit scoring game, the top-seeded Tar Heels toppled No. 8 seed Creighton 87-73 to advance to their 31st NCAA tournament regional semifinal.

The Tar Heels led by as many as 19 in the second half, but when the Bluejays pulled to within 11 with about five minutes left, UNC's Harrison Barnes buried back-to-back 3-pointers to seal his team's trip to St. Louis.

Creighton's Doug McDermott, Barnes' former high school teammate, finished with 20 points, but the Tar Heels just had too many weapons.

Marshall (18 points, 11 assists) and Henson (13 points, 10 rebounds) finished with double-doubles. Barnes finished with 17 points. Reggie Bullock added 13 points.

Turning point: The score was tied 11-11 in the first half when Henson got the ball and Creighton’s Grant Gibbs slapped down on it, hitting Henson’s wrapped wrist in the process. Henson exchanged words with the guard, earning a technical.

His teammates responded to his anger. After the Bluejays made one of the two technical free throws, UNC pushed on a 28-12 run to take its largest lead of the half (39-24). Marshall scored nine in a row for the Tar Heels at one point during the breakaway, and the baby-blue clad spectators were as loud as any of those at the Smith Center this season.

Key player: Henson, who did all the aforementioned things wearing tape and a molded splint on his left wrist.

Key stat: The Tar Heels recorded only seven blocks in their three games without Henson. Sunday, they had nine.

Miscellaneous: One of the biggest cheers of the game came with about a minute left in the first half at Greensboro Coliseum, when UNC fans applauded Lehigh (which upset rival Duke on Friday) as it entered the building.

What’s next: Top-seeded UNC will play No. 13 seed Ohio on Friday in St. Louis in the Midwest Region semifinals.

Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.
GREENSBORO, N.C. -- North Carolina forward John Henson, who has missed three straight games because of a sprained left wrist, will play Sunday against eighth-seeded Creighton in the NCAA tournament, a team spokesman said.

It won't be determined whether the ACC Defensive Player of the Year will start until the junior goes through warm-ups.

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GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Previewing the round of 32 games at Greensboro Coliseum on Sunday:

No. 1 seed North Carolina (30-5) vs. No. 8 seed Creighton (29-5), 5:15 p.m. ET

Greg McDermott knows he made mistakes as Iowa State’s coach.

After leading Northern Iowa to three consecutive NCAA tournament appearances from 2004 to 2006, McDermott seemed like the perfect fit to become the Cyclones’ coach. A native of Cascade, Iowa, McDermott was successful in his first three coaching stops at Division II Wayne State in Nebraska, North Dakota State and then Northern Iowa.

After spending a dozen seasons coaching at college basketball’s lower levels, McDermott seemed ready for the sport’s big time.

Instead, McDermott endured four consecutive losing seasons at Iowa State, compiling a 59-68 record and never finishing better than 6-10 in the Big 12. McDermott resigned as the Cyclones’ coach after the 2009-10 season, when Creighton mercifully threw him a lifeboat to save his sinking career.

“I made some mistakes,” McDermott said. “I made some mistakes in recruiting. I made some mistakes with my dealings with some of our players that resulted in some guys transferring. And I think if you understand yourself and you take a look in the mirror, you better grow from that and learn from that.”

McDermott has resurrected his career with the Bluejays, who will play No. 1 seed North Carolina in a Midwest Regional third-round game at Greensboro Coliseum on Sunday.

“I think that the Missouri Valley is just a really good fit for him,” said Creighton forward Doug McDermott, the coach’s son. “[It’s] a mid-major conference, a really good league, and I just think the Big 12 might have been a little bit of a wake-up call. I think he’s more comfortable in the Missouri Valley Conference recruiting wise and he just feels in his comfort zone, so he’s really happy to be here.”

Ironically, McDermott’s move to Creighton prevented him from making perhaps the biggest recruiting mistake of his career -- not recruiting his son. Doug McDermott signed to play for Northern Iowa during his senior season at Ames (Iowa) High School in 2010. Greg McDermott didn’t think his son was good enough to play at Iowa State, and frankly, didn’t think his program was good enough for him, either.

“The culture that I had created with the program at Iowa State wasn’t where I wanted it to be,” Greg McDermott said. “I was constantly plugging holes because of guys transferring. And when you do that, it becomes a vicious cycle of things probably not going very well. And Doug was around it every day and I’m not sure that he was that excited to be part of it.”

Under McDermott’s watch, the Cyclones began to fall apart after leading scorer Mike Taylor, a junior college transfer, was dismissed from the team for off-court problems in 2007. The next year, forward Wesley Johnson transferred to Syracuse after two seasons at Iowa State. Johnson injured his foot in 2007-08 and didn’t learn it was actually broken until after the season. He was named Big East Player of the Year in his only season with the Orange and was the fourth pick in the 2010 NBA draft by the Minnesota Timberwolves.

With so much uncertainty at Iowa State, Doug McDermott thought playing for his father’s former school was a better option.

“To be honest, I didn’t really want to play for him there, either,” McDermott said. “I felt like I was a Missouri Valley Conference fit. I felt like it was a good fit for me at Northern Iowa and at the time we just decided to go separate ways.”

But when Greg McDermott signed a 10-year contract with Creighton, the Panthers agreed to release Doug to play for his father. Greg McDermott said he consulted several colleagues who coached their sons -- like former Indiana coach Bob Knight, Minnesota coach Tubby Smith, former Washington State coach Dick Bennett and Michigan coach John Beilein -- about having Doug on his team.

“Almost to a man they felt if your son was going to be one of your best players, it would work fine,” Greg McDermott said. “Or if your son was a walk-on that never played, it would work fine. But if he is in the middle, if he’s your fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth guy, it creates a lot of additional pressure for your son and for you as his coach.”

That hasn’t been a problem at Creighton, where Doug McDermott has easily been the Bluejays’ best player over the past two seasons. This season, he was the country’s third-leading scorer with 23.2 points per game and was the first sophomore in history to be named MVC Player of the Year. McDermott scored 16 points with 10 rebounds in the No. 8-seeded Bluejays’ 58-57 victory over No. 9 seed Alabama in Friday’s second round.

“I don’t think anybody saw this coming,” Greg McDermott said of his son’s rapid development.

But North Carolina coach Roy Williams, who recruited Harrison Barnes, McDermott’s highly coveted teammate at Ames High School, said he told Greg McDermott his son was good enough to play at a program like Iowa State or anywhere else.

“Greg and I were standing outside the locker room when Ames won the state championship their senior year,” Williams said. “I said, ‘You’re crazy.’ I said, ‘If he’s my son, he’s going to play for me. He’s good enough to play for you.’ And that’s when Greg was at Iowa State, and he had already signed that fall with Northern Iowa. And Greg said, ‘Well, you know, I wish he were a little taller and a little stronger, and I don’t really want to put that kind of pressure on him,’ which I can appreciate that. But I said, ‘I still think you’re crazy because he would have been able to be a very successful player at Iowa State or North Carolina or anywhere.’”

On Sunday, McDermott will try to prove he and the rest of the Bluejays are good enough to topple the mighty Tar Heels.

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Instant analysis from North Carolina's win against Vermont:

Overview: Unlike the ACC tournament final last weekend, the top-seeded Tar Heels didn’t even bother to have starting forward John Henson (who missed his third straight game because of a sprained left wrist) in uniform in case of an “emergency” situation.

And despite some sloppy play early, they didn’t need their 6-foot-11 ACC Defensive Player of the Year to advance.

UNC shot poorly early and committed 24 turnovers. But it got a career-high 17 points from freshman James Michael McAdoo, who started his third straight game in place of Henson, and created a much-needed energy-boost for his team in the second half.

Sandro Carissimo led No. 16 seed Vermont with 11 points.

Turning point(s): Leading 19-17, the Tar Heels finally created some much-needed separation with a 12-4 run that included seven points from senior 7-footer Tyler Zeller. That gave UNC its first double-digit lead (31-21) with about 2 minutes left in the first half.

Then, with UNC still only ahead by 13, McAdoo converted a pair of three-point plays, and freshman P.J. Hairston added a 3-pointer for a 9-2 run that pushed the Tar Heels ahead 57-37 with about 8 minutes left.

Key player: Zeller finished with 17 points and 15 rebounds. He also blocked two Vermont players on the same possession with 14:40 left, further stuffing the stat sheet.

Key stat: Vermont shot worse than 40 percent for the game, and made only 3 of 18 3-point attempts.

Miscellaneous: It was surprising how many empty seats there were for this game, considering Greensboro Coliseum is only about an hour’s drive from Chapel Hill, N.C. … UNC point guard Kendall Marshall’s four first-half assists pushed him past Southern’s Avery Johnson for fourth on the NCAA’s all-time list for assists in a season. Marshall, who already set the school and ACC records this season, entered the game with 330, and finished with 10. ... UNC forward Harrison Barnes had made only 4 of his 23 3-point attempts over his pevious six games. He was 1-for-3 on Friday.

What’s next: UNC will play eighth-seeded Creighton -- which topped Alabama 58-57 in the early game -- on Sunday at Greensboro Coliseum. The winner will advance to the Midwest Region semifinals in St. Louis.

Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.
GREENSBORO, N.C. -- North Carolina on Friday faces a foe in Vermont freshman Four McGlynn who is unique in a couple of ways.

He’s the only player in Division I that leads his team in scoring (12.2 ppg) without having started a game.

And his name is, well, “Four.”

Where did it come from?

“My uncle played with one of his good friends in high school; they called him ‘Four’ because he was the fourth generation,’’ the 6-foot-2 guard said. “And my dad named me Patrick which made me Patrick McGlynn, IV. So my uncle thought it would be cool if they call me ‘Four,’ and started calling me that ever since I was a baby. And it kind of stuck from there.”

McGlynn said he’s always liked the nickname, because no one else had it. “So it was cool being different,’’ he said.

Another way he'd like to be different: becoming part of the first 16th-seeded team to upset a No. 1.

"We're going into the game as confident as we have been all year,'' McGlynn said. "We have been playing great as of late, been on a pretty good winning streak, and we know that everyone's doubting us.

"But at the end of the day, it comes down to 12 guys on our team, and the coaches in the locker room that believe in us. And we're going to believe in each other and go out there and fight and hopefully come out with a win."

WHO’S THE BEST? UNC coach Roy Williams said he doesn’t think the NCAA tournament always identifies the best team: “I’ve had two teams that I thought were the best team in the country and we didn’t win, and I still thought they were the best team in the country.”

Asked if he felt his current team was the best in the nation this season, he said, “No.”

So who is?

“I said the same thing on October 15th, I think there’s seven or eight teams that have a legitimate chance,’’ he said. “Now I would probably go to 10 or 11. To me, I think Kentucky and Syracuse have separated themselves a little from everybody else. And they lost last week, so…."

TOE VS. WRIST: From the outside, it’s easy to draw comparisons. In 2009, when UNC was a No. 1 seed, it faced questions about if it would open the NCAA tournament in Greensboro without starting point guard Ty Lawson (who had an injured big toe).

This week, the top-seeded Tar Heels face questions, again at Greensboro Coliseum, about if they will have to sit starting forward John Henson (sprained left wrist.)

In 2009, Lawson sat out the first game. Henson, as of Thursday night, was considered a game-time decision.

But having dealt with a similar situation three years ago (when the Tar Heels went on to win the national title) isn’t necessarily helping Williams now.

“I’m awfully uncomfortable talking about it because I don’t know what I’m going to do,’’ Williams said.

Lawson’s situation was different than Henson’s, Williams explained, because the guard hurt his toe before the regular-season final against Duke, played, and then hurt it again. “So it was almost like a recurrence, but he didn’t get it hit again,’’ Williams said. “It’s just the swelling went up there.”

Williams said he also knew that that he had a solid option at back-up point guard in Bobby Frasor: “Bobby’s not Ty, but Bobby had played that position before and I had tremendous amounts of confidence in him. We had so many weapons with Danny [Green] and Wayne [Ellington] and Tyler [Hansborugh]; we just had a lot of weapons there.”

By contrast, Henson is backed up by freshman James Michael McAdoo, who has played with more aggression and focus lately, but he doesn’t have NCAA experience. Unlike ’09, the Tar Heels also have two key players on the bench: guards Leslie McDonald and Dexter Strickland, both out for the season with knee injuries.

Williams said if Lawson hadn’t come back for the second NCAA game in ’09, he doesn’t think the Tar Heels would have won it.

“Yeah … there are some similiaries [between Lawson and Henson],’’ Williams said. “But it certainly hasn’t made me more comfortable with what I’m trying to decide right now.”

Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.

Kentucky, UNC popular picks to win title

March, 15, 2012
This year, there were 6.45 million brackets entered in Tournament Challenge. Last year, there were 5.9 million brackets entered in the game.

Here are some stats with some of the most popular user picks:

The most popular picks to win the championship:
Kentucky -- 35.1 percent
North Carolina -- 17.9 percent
Michigan State -- 7.5 percent
Missouri -- 7.2 percent
Kansas -- 6.2 percent
Syracuse -- 5.1 percent
Ohio State -- 4.8 percent
Duke -- 3.7 percent
Florida State -- 2.8 percent
Baylor -- 1.7 percent

Kentucky (52 percent) and North Carolina (40 percent) are the most popular picks to reach the title game, and 24.1 percent of brackets have those two meeting for the championship.

Most popular Final Four picks coming out of each region:

1. Kentucky -- 68.3 percent
2. Duke -- 12.9 percent

2. Missouri -- 40.8 percent
1. Michigan State -- 39.6 percent

2. Ohio State -- 34.4 percent
3. Florida State -- 26.3 percent
1. Syracuse -- 22.8 percent

1. North Carolina -- 57 percent
2. Kansas -- 30.1 percent

President's Obama's bracket is here: A total of 7.6 percent of brackets have the same Final Four (Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio State, Missouri) as the president.