North Carolina Tar Heels: Doug McDermott

Saturday by the numbers

March, 9, 2014
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Saturday, the last full day of regular-season college hoops, was a grand affair. We had overtime and history-making matchups and buzzer-beaters and memorable Senior Nights.

And the NCAA tournament hasn’t even started.

It’s probably best to recap this day according to its most significant numbers:

3,000: Bill Walton won two national championships with UCLA. Lew Alcindor won three national titles for the Bruins. J.J. Redick shattered records at Duke during his time there. Ralph Sampson won three consecutive Naismith player of the year awards at Virginia. Sampson, Alcindor and Walton are three of the greatest athletes who ever played at the collegiate level. But none of the aforementioned four players scored 3,000 points in their respective careers. Now, it’s only fair to note that eligibility limits blocked freshmen from competing with the varsity squads then and the 3-point line wasn’t available, either.

[+] EnlargeDoug McDermott
AP Photo/Nati HarnikCreighton's Doug McDermott because just the eighth player to score more than 3,000 career points.
None of that diminishes what Doug McDermott has accomplished, however, as the senior forward became just the eighth player in NCAA history to score 3,000 career points. He reached that historic tally on a 3-pointer with 11:27 to play in Creighton’s 88-73 win over Providence on Saturday. He finished with 45 points total and 3,011 for his career to date.

4: Iowa State and Oklahoma State have had two battles this season. And after Saturday’s thriller, the Cyclones can claim both victories over the Pokes, but they needed four overtimes to get there. The first game, a 98-97 win for Iowa State, demanded triple overtime in Stillwater. Naz Long hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to drag Saturday’s game into the extra period in Ames, where Iowa State secured the 85-81 victory in the rematch.

41: Remember that stuff about Andrew Wiggins not being aggressive enough? Well, that’s so 2013. The freshman, a finalist for the Wooden Award, has been one of America’s best players in recent months. Proof? He dropped a career-high 41 points in Kansas’ 92-86 loss at West Virginia. At one point in the game, the Mountaineers had a 64-39 lead. But the Jayhawks, who were missing Joel Embiid, had a chance in the end. Yes, Kansas suffered a loss, which doesn’t help its argument for a top seed. But Wiggins produced the second-highest point total for a freshman in Big 12 history, per ESPN Stats & Information. That’s impressive.

18-0: Kentucky made things interesting for a moment. But the Wildcats couldn’t handle Florida’s full onslaught in the Gators’ 84-65 victory in Gainesville, a win that gave Florida a perfect 18-0 record in conference play. The Gators are the first team in SEC history to finish a year with 18 wins, per ESPN Stats & Information. The win also extended Florida’s winning streak to 23 games.

13: In the final home game of his career at Louisville, Russ “Russdiculous” Smith decided to let his teammates shine. He dished out a career-high 13 assists during an 81-48 Senior Night win over UConn.

1: With Cincinnati topping Rutgers and Louisville beating UConn, the American Athletic Conference had a problem. The Bearcats and Cardinals split the league title so the conference used a coin flip to finalize the top seed in next week’s AAC tourney. The winner? Cincinnati. "I requested that Coach Pitino and I play one game of liar's poker," Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin joked to reporters after the game. “We used to do that all the time -- for fun, obviously.”

7 minutes, 32 seconds: That’s how long Arizona went without a field goal in the second half of a 64-57 road loss to Oregon, which snapped the Wildcats' five-game winning streak. That drought helped the Ducks seize a commanding lead via their 17-5 run.

73 seconds: That’s how much time remained in the game when Glenn Robinson III hit a go-ahead 3-pointer in Michigan's 84-80 win over Indiana.

33: Wins for undefeated Wichita State after Saturday’s 67-42 victory over Missouri State in the Missouri Valley Conference tourney semifinals. The Shockers are just the third team in Division I history to achieve a 33-0 mark, per ESPN Stats & Information.

30: Jabari Parker's career high in a 93-81 win over North Carolina at Cameron Indoor (most points by a Duke freshman in a matchup against North Carolina, according to ESPN Stats & Information), which gave Duke 33 consecutive home wins -- a Division I-high that the Blue Devils currently share with Stephen F. Austin.

2007: Eastern Kentucky upset top-seeded Belmont, 79-73, in the Ohio Valley tourney title game. The Colonels became the second team to punch their ticket to the NCAA tournament this season. And they’ll be dancing for the first time since 2007.

Marcus Paige by the numbers

November, 27, 2013
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It seems like just yesterday when North Carolina guard Marcus Paige expressed an uneasiness over making the transition to shooting guard. He was so conditioned to creating for others that the mentality to look for his own shots didn’t come naturally.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Paige
Zumapress/Icon SMIMarcus Paige's transition to shooting guard has been seamless.
Five games later, Paige has thrust himself into a different stratosphere -- both nationally and among Tar Heels historically.

He’s currently leading the team with 22.4 ppg. That's comparable to others mentioned as national-player-of-the-year candidates like Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart (21.0), Louisville’s Russ Smith (20.2), Kentucky’s Julius Randle (19.8), Arizona State’s Jahii Carson (23.0) and Duke’s Jabari Parker (23.0).

That also would put Paige on a short list of Tar Heels who have averaged 20 or more points a game since 1970:

Phil Ford (20.8 ppg in 1977-78); Michael Jordan (20.0 ppg in 1982-83); Brad Daugherty (20.2 ppg in 1985-86); Hubert Davis (21.4 ppg in 1991-92); Antawn Jamison (22.2 ppg in 1997-98); Joseph Forte (20.9 ppg in 2000-01), Rashad McCants (20.0 ppg 2003-04) and Tyler Hansbrough (22.6 ppg in 2007-08 and 20.7 in 2008-09).

Paige is shooting 53.1 percent from 3-point range, which ranked him 29th nationally as of Monday's NCAA statistics. The next closest national-player-of-the-year candidate is Creighton’s Doug McDermott, who is tied for 38th at 50 percent.

If Paige continues at this rate, he would shatter the Carolina single-season record of 49.6 percent set by Dante Calabria in 1994-95. The difference is Calabria was a spot-up shooter who benefited from Jerry Stackhouse and Rasheed Wallace drawing most of the defense's attention.

Paige is shooting 93.1 percent from the free-throw line, which was tied for 40th nationally entering the week. Again, he’d set a new school standard if he keeps it up, besting Shammond Williams’ single-season record of 91.1 percent during the 1997-98 season.

Paige is also shooting 53.1 percent from the field, which for a guard is great, but it doesn’t compare with post players.

Of course some, if not all, of Paige’s current averages will decrease once teams make him the focal point of their game plans.

But the irony here is if Carolina had its full roster, and Paige were strictly playing point guard, he wouldn’t be posting anywhere near his scoring average. That’s what makes his transformation in such a short amount of time so impressive.

Paige has played at such a high level that it would be hard to argue that he’s not the best player on the team even when P.J. Hairston came back.
Unlike shooting or rebounding or point guard play or the variety of other specific basketball skills we’ve been highlighting in our Best of the Best lists throughout this week, the category of “most important” is far trickier to quantify. It depends not only on a player’s contributions, but on the team around him and where the two dynamics meet in the middle. There is also a constant temptation to conflate “most important” with “best” or “most valuable,” and those arguments (hello, baseball) always make my head hurt.

My editors asked me to name the 10 players most important to their teams in the country, and that’s precisely what I’m going to try to do. But I also attempted to avoid the rabbit hole that is individual talent at the mid-major level. Instead, I tried to narrow the criteria down to players most important to their teams’ chances of winning a national title, or making a deep tournament run, or maintaining some level of national relevance. Let’s give it a shot:

[+] EnlargeIsaiah Canaan
AP Photo/Dave Martin, FileWith much of last season's cast gone, Isaiah Canaan is even more key to Murray State this season.
1. Isaiah Canaan, Murray State: Last season, Canaan was hands down the best and most important player on a team that went 31–2, leading his team in minutes, points, assists, offensive rating (122.2), 3-point field goal percentage (45.6) and a wide swath of other statistical categories. He dominated the ball, scored at will and facilitated to boot. He was really, really good.

And that was on a team that included seniors Donte Poole, Ivan Aska and Jewuan Long, on a team that already was beginning to bring along guard Zay Jackson as Canaan’s new backcourt partner. The first three players are gone to graduation; Jackson is missing the entire season after pleading guilty to wanton endangerment for running over two people with his car in a Walmart parking lot. (True story.) So Canaan, already crucial to his team’s success a year ago, becomes the primary returner on a squad that still very much maintains conference-title and NCAA tournament aspirations. No one player in the country will mean more to his team this season.

2. Cody Zeller, Indiana: Zeller, the AP Preseason Player of the Year, obviously is important. He is the unifying force on a team that desperately needed exactly what he provided as a freshman: interior scoring, rebounding, strength, efficiency, you name it. He led the Hoosiers in field goal attempts by a wide margin, and Indiana fans could frequently be heard complaining that Zeller wasn’t getting enough touches. Truth is, they probably were right. Before he arrived, with similar personnel, Indiana won 12 games. Afterward, they went 27–9. He doesn’t get credit for all 15 wins of that improvement -- other players got better, too -- but there’s no question his impact was immense. You know all this already.

Here’s the twist, though: All offseason, we’ve been praising the Hoosiers’ depth, and there’s no question Tom Crean has a wealth of pieces at his disposal. But right now, aside from Zeller, the frontcourt is looking a little slim. Forward Derek Elston (better as a 15-foot jump-shooter anyway) is injured, and the eligibility statuses of freshman Hanner Mosquera-Perea (a wide-shouldered rebounding force) and Peter Jurkin (a 7-foot center) are both up in the air. Zeller already has much riding on his shoulders, and more help was supposed to be on the way. If it isn’t, Zeller’s task becomes even more daunting.

3. Doug McDermott, Creighton: Last season, there were two players in the country who used at least 28 percent of their team’s available possessions and posted offensive ratings (a measure of individual player efficiency) above 120. The first was Damian Lillard, who did this for the Portland Trail Blazers the other night. The other: Doug McDermott. He shot 63.2 percent from inside the arc (on 400 shots) and 48.6 percent outside (on 111), and he rebounded well on both ends for good measure. Creighton has guys who can play. Grant Gibbs is a sublime entry passer, Jahenns Manigat is coming on strong and Ethan Wragge can shoot it. But there’s no getting around the fact that McDermott’s incredible inside-out offensive versatility was the main reason his team boasted the fifth-most efficient offense in the country last season, per KenPom.com. Seeing as Creighton’s defense was so lackluster, the Bluejays very much needed that offense. Even assuming they improve somewhat on the defensive end this season, they’ll still need to score like crazy in 2012-13. That’s where McDermott comes in.

4. Peyton Siva, Louisville: Every time we talk about the huge talents returning at Louisville, we talk about how good the defense is going to be. This is for good reason: It was the best in the country last season, good enough to get the No. 4-seeded Cardinals to the Final Four. It will keep them in excellent shape in the season to come. It’s bankable like that. Then, after we sing the defensive hosannas, we get around to talking about how so-so Louisville’s offense was, and how if the Cardinals are truly a national title contender they have to find ways to score.

Siva is the most crucial piece in this discussion. The UL senior point guard is 5-foot-11 and quick as lightning; the problem is that he just isn’t very efficient. He shot 24.6 percent from 3 in 2011-12. He turned the ball over on nearly a third of his possessions (29.3 percent). According to Synergy scouting data, Louisville uses Siva more frequently than any other player to initiate pick-and-roll sets at the top of the key, a play type it favors as a team, but he is merely average in his execution. Why? Because defenses don’t have to respect his jumper. They play under the screen, the play dies and Louisville goes to Plan B.

To me, if Louisville is going to turn its offense to something more coherent, Siva is the key. Without a more efficient performance at the point guard spot, the Cardinals will still be a brutally tough out. But they won’t reach their full potential.

[+] EnlargeRyan Harrow
Mark Zerof/US PresswireNC State transfer Ryan Harrow takes the reins of a talented, but again young, Kentucky squad.
5. Ryan Harrow, Kentucky: The NC State transfer is getting his moment in the John Calipari point-guard spotlight this season, a vaunted role typically reserved for NBA lottery picks. That spotlight can be harsh -- never more so than from Calipari himself -- but there are good reasons for Calipari’s insistence on point guard excellence. For one, his dribble-drive offensive system (which he has used variously in recent seasons, and might return to more in 2012-13) thrives on point guard play more than most.

The second reason? Harrow, who spent last season on the bench after a freshman campaign in Raleigh, is in many ways a veteran in Kentucky’s latest amalgamation of highly talented but still raw freshmen. His ability to run an effective offense, while dealing with players still getting used to each other and the college level at the same time, will be key to Kentucky’s success this season.

6. Trey Burke, Michigan: Burke has something of a similar challenge to Harrow’s, but one accentuated by what could be a major adjustment at the offensive end. Last season, Burke sprang onto the scene at the helm of an archetypal John Beilein-style "spread the floor and fire away" 3-point-shooting team. The team’s three most efficient shooters are gone, replaced by touted freshmen (Glenn Robinson III, Mitch McGary) unlike anything Beilein has had the luxury of landing during his tenure in Ann Arbor. Now, Michigan’s best lineup will look more conventional, with big, athletic, bruising players.

This could be a boon on defense, but it will require a shift on offense; it seems almost unfathomable the Wolverines will shoot nearly as many 3s this season. At the middle of it all will be Burke, a preseason All-American who will see his distribution and leadership abilities fully put to the test.

7. Adonis Thomas, Memphis: It was tempting to put point guard Joe Jackson in this spot. The same could be said for center Tarik Black. Jackson has still yet to harness his immense talent in a totally cohesive way; Black can’t seem to stay out of foul trouble. But I decided to go with Thomas. Why? For one, he’ll be stepping into former Tiger Will Barton’s shoes, and there was no mistaking Barton was the best player on a pretty underrated 2011-12 Memphis team. But Thomas could arguably be even better, at least on the offensive end; by all accounts, the 6-6 small forward has been utterly lacing long-range shots all offseason. That versatility would make Thomas, who played power forward until his injury last season, an utter nightmare to guard and could introduce a new dynamism to a Memphis offense that was already pretty good in the first place. I’m really intrigued.

8. Lorenzo Brown, NC State: C.J. Leslie is the obvious pick here, but I think we kind of know what we’re going to get with him. He’s athletic, he’s one of the best in the country at catching on the block or elbow and diving to either side of the rim, and he should be locked in from start to finish this season. Maybe that’s presumptuous, but I’m taking Leslie’s productivity as a given. (OK, it’s definitely presumptuous. Make me look smart, C.J.) Brown, on the other hand, feels more crucial because, like some of the other PGs on this list, it is his job to make the whole Wolfpack thing work. That includes integrating Rodney Purvis; playing better defense at the point of attack; and keeping Leslie involved and finding sharpshooter Scott Wood on the wing. If Brown has a top season, NC State might indeed be worthy of that lofty, tourney-run-infused No. 6 preseason ranking. If not, the “overrated” refrain will ring out early and often.

9. Phil Pressey, Missouri: Senior guard Michael Dixon’s indefinite suspension probably won’t last too long, but that’s hardly the only reason Pressey deserves a nod here. Along with Dixon -- who is more of a catch-and-shoot player than Pressey, a gifted ball handler, penetrator and creator -- Missouri’s backcourt has kind of a crazy/thrilling challenge on its hands in 2012-13. The Tigers have to replace the losses of Kim English, Ricardo Ratliffe and Marcus Denmon with four transfers: Keion Bell (from Pepperdine), Jabari Brown (from Oregon), Alex Oriakhi (from Connecticut) and Earnest Ross (from Auburn). Those players have all been on campus for a while, and it’s not exactly like figuring out guys you just picked up in an open run ... but compared to the rest of the country, it’s not all that far off, either.

10. James Michael McAdoo, North Carolina: It will be easy, in the coming months and years, to forget just how good North Carolina’s 2011-12 frontcourt was. That’s what happens when you have gigantic expectations and bow out of the NCAA tournament short of the Final Four. But let it be known: Tyler Zeller and John Henson (and, oh yeah, Harrison Barnes) were really good. Not only did they control the paint and score easily on the offensive end, but they were fast enough to race down the floor in Roy Williams’ up-tempo system, getting easy buckets on offense and turning UNC’s interior defense into its overall team strength.

Given all that, McAdoo has a ton riding on him in 2012-13. He was a highly touted recruit who probably could have been a lottery pick last season, but he chose to avoid that route (word to Marvin Williams) and come back to prove himself on the college stage. Carolina returns some promising wings (P.J. Hairston, Leslie McDonald) and brings in a really interesting frosh at point guard (Iowa native Marcus Paige), but McAdoo will be in charge of the low block. If he lives up to his heady NBA potential, look out. If not, UNC will labor. It’s that simple.
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. -- 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. -- It wasn’t too long ago that Harrison Barnes was riding shotgun around Iowa in Doug McDermott’s white Nissan Murano -- doing errands when they weren’t helping Ames High to consecutive state championships, taking breaks during March Madness to watch games together.

But neither could have foreseen, after graduating in 2010, that they would be matched up in the NCAA tournament Sunday for the chance to advance to the Sweet 16.

“It’s weird; it’s still weird; I think it will be weird at gametime,’’ said McDermott, whose eighth-seeded Creighton Bluejays will try to upset Barnes’ top-seeded North Carolina squad at approximately 5:15 p.m. EST at Greensboro Coliseum. “But I think once we step on the floor, it’ll be just another game.”

The pairing has been anticipated since the NCAA field was announced, and both friends have taken distinctly different routes to this showdown.

Barnes, now a 6-foot-8 wing, was a four-year starter at Ames who broke the state’s career scoring record.

McDermott, now a 6-7 forward, was a later bloomer, spending two years on the junior varsity, then coming off the bench his junior season before joining Barnes in the opening lineup as a senior.

It was watching Barnes’ work ethic -- his willingness to practice on off-days, to hit the gym before anyone else, to focus on his goals -- McDermott said, that drove him to improve.

[+] EnlargeUNC's Harrison Barnes
AP Photo/Gerry BroomeNorth Carolina's Harrison Barnes will face former high school teammate Doug McDermott on Sunday.
“Harrison's responsible for a lot of Doug's development,” Greg McDermott, Doug’s father and Creighton’s coach, said. “... When other high school-aged students were going to movies and going to football games and going to the prom, Harrison was working out.

“And I really believe that Doug saw in Harrison a guy that he wanted to emulate and saw the improvement and said, ‘You know what? I think that I now know what it takes.’ He could listen to his dad and his high school coach, but when you see it in Harrison, the improvement he made each year of high school because of his work ethic, it was certainly impactful for Doug.”

Another thing that inspired him, Doug McDermott said, was having the best college coaches in the country -- including UNC’s Roy Williams and Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski -- watching Barnes (and therefore, the rest of the team) at Ames’ games.

Greg McDermott said that Williams saw his son play almost as much as he did his junior and senior seasons, "and that made a lot of us better because it brought so much more attention ... and it made us all want to be better players, a better team," Doug McDermott said.

Barnes, considered the top recruit in the country by many, ended up choosing Williams and the Tar Heels, where he earned ACC Rookie of the Year Honors last season. He is a member of the All-ACC first-team this year, and will almost certainly be an NBA lottery pick if he goes pro this summer.

McDermott originally signed with Northern Iowa before being released to play for his father at Creighton. This season, he became the first first-team All-American in the school’s history-- an honor Barnes has not yet earned, but for which he has congratulated his friend.

“His growth has been tremendous,’’ said Barnes, who leads UNC with 17.3 ppg. “Just having the ability to go to Creighton, go to a system where he’s able to grow and develop. And now everyone’s starting to see that, see his efficiency magnified, and see him get the shots he needs and in the right location he needs them in, and it’s been great. And as a former teammate, it’s been fun to watch.”

Although it might not be so fun if McDermott, who is averaging 23 point per game, continues that pattern Sunday.

It’s unclear how often (or if) the teammates-turned-foes will match up head-to-head. Although McDermott is productive both in the lane and behind the arc (he shoots 60.8 percent overall, and 49.5 percent on 3s), he starts with three shorter guards. That means he’ll likely draw 6-9 freshman forward James Michael McAdoo (or 6-11 John Henson, if he returns from a sprained left wrist), at least at the beginning of the game.

No matter the one-on-one match-ups, McDermott said he looks forward to having the teams match up. And to putting all those memories of high school car rides, practices and NCAA-watching aside -- as least for a few hours.

“We're both competitive dudes, so I think it should be a really fun game,’’ McDermott said.

Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.
GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Breaking down the Friday afternoon games in Greensboro:

No. 9 seed Alabama (21-11) vs. No. 8 Creighton (28-5), 1:40 p.m. ET

Creighton loves to score in a hurry; the Bluejays averaged 80 points per game and scored 90 or more nine times this season.

Alabama prefers to play at a relative snail’s pace, limiting its opponents to only 58.1 points per game, fewest in the SEC and ninth-fewest in NCAA Division I.

Their contrasting styles will meet in a Midwest Region second-round game at Greensboro Coliseum.

“It’s tough for us to simulate,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. “But we’re not going to change anything that we do. We’re going to shoot a bunch of 3s, we’re going to try to jam it inside, 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 of the game.”

Why would the Bluejays change anything now? Creighton has won seven games in a row, including an 83-79 victory in overtime over Illinois State in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament championship game March 4. The Bluejays rank No. 7 nationally in scoring and they’ve made 42.5 percent of their 3-pointers and 50.9 percent of their shots overall.

Sophomore guard Doug McDermott, the coach’s son, ranks No. 3 nationally in scoring with 23.2 points per game and was No. 2 in the MVC with 8.2 rebounds. He knows he’ll face a stiff challenge from the Crimson Tide, who will be longer and more athletic than most opponents he faced this season.

“I’ve seen a lot of different defenses this year with double teams and guys just being more physical with me,” McDermott said. “But I think that if they’re going to put a lot of attention on me, it’s just going to open up a lot of things for [my teammates].”

The Crimson Tide recovered from a 3-6 stretch in midseason to earn its first trip to the NCAA tournament since 2006. Alabama overcame the suspensions of four players and myriad injuries to win five of its final seven games. Tide forward Tony Mitchell, the team’s second-leading scorer with 13.1 points per game, was suspended on Feb. 20 for the rest of the season. Because of the roster upheaval, the Tide used 13 starting lineups and eight in its past 11 games.

“I think that every program at some point during the year, whether it’s injuries or illnesses or something, you go through adversity,” Alabama coach Anthony Grant said. “I think every coach you talk to says your team’s going to face adversity and [it’s about] how you handle that adversity. Sometimes that adversity can come through losing; sometimes it comes through winning. But that’s just a part of the game. Our team’s no different. I think our guys have grown and matured over the course of the season, individually and collectively.”

Who to watch:

Creighton’s McDermott: No player will get as much defensive attention as McDermott, who was named MVC Player of the Year and set a Creighton season record with 765 points. Only two other sophomores in MVC history scored 700 points in a season -- Cincinnati’s Oscar Robertson and Indiana State’s Larry Bird. McDermott ranked second in the MVC in 3-point shooting (49.5 percent) and scored 30 points or more in six games.

Creighton’s Gregory Echenique: Creighton’s chances might come down to Echenique’s ability to hold his own against Alabama’s frontcourt of JaMychal Green and Nick Jacobs. Echenique, a junior from Guatire, Venezuela, averaged 9.8 points and 7.4 rebounds and led the MVC in blocked shots in each of the past two seasons.

Alabama’s Green: After returning to the starting lineup against Auburn on Feb. 29, Green recorded double-doubles in three of the Tide’s final four games. He had 22 points and 10 rebounds in the Tide’s 66-63 loss to Florida in the SEC tournament, the 27th double-double of his career. Green, the Tide’s only senior, missed seven games because of injuries and suspensions but still averaged 14 points and 7.4 rebounds.

What to watch: Guard play. The Crimson Tide likes to turn opponents over with a full-court press and half-court traps. The Bluejays turned the ball over 405 times -- 61 more than their opponents had in 33 games -- but senior Antoine Young led the MVC in assist/turnover ratio in each of the past two seasons. Gonzaga transfer Grant Gibbs was also among the MVC leaders with 5.1 assists per game.

No. 16 seed Vermont (24-11) vs. No. 1 North Carolina (29-5), 4:10 p.m. ET

North Carolina probably won’t need forward John Henson to defeat Vermont. After all, No. 1 seeds are 110-0 against No. 16 seeds in the NCAA tournament.

But if the Tar Heels are going to advance beyond the tournament’s opening weekend and perhaps even to the Final Four in New Orleans, they’ll need Henson to return from a left wrist injury that caused him to miss most of the past three games.

Henson, a 6-foot-10 junior from Tampa, Fla., went through about 70 percent of the team’s practice in Chapel Hill, N.C., on Thursday morning and then most of the Tar Heels’ light workout in Greensboro. The two-time reigning ACC Defensive Player of the Year, Henson is averaging 13.8 points and 10.1 rebounds with 94 blocked shots this season.

Henson says he’s ready to play for the first time since injuring his wrist in the early minutes of an 85-69 win over Maryland in the ACC tournament on March 9, but UNC coach Roy Williams isn’t so sure.

“We practiced [Thursday] morning,” Williams said. “John did a little more than he did [Wednesday]. We let him in some live situations. He did not shoot the ball left-handed a single time. He did not block any shots left-handed. So I’m extremely concerned about that part of it, because that’s his dominant hand in a big, big way. He did block one shot, it was right-handed, and he took one jump hook right-handed and it fell about three miles short. But he felt like if the game were to be played today, he felt like he could play. I’m not convinced.”

If Henson can’t go, UNC freshman James Michael McAdoo will probably start his third consecutive game. McAdoo struggled on offense in UNC’s 85-82 loss to Florida State in the ACC final Sunday, scoring four points on 2-for-10 shooting. But he grabbed eight rebounds with one blocked shot and four steals.

“We prepare both ways, prepared for [Henson] to play as well as not play,” UNC senior Tyler Zeller said. “We don’t know yet what’s going to happen with him, so we have had him in for some plays. We have also had James Michael in with the first team playing a lot also. We’re just trying to prepare for whatever we have and make the best of it.”

Henson, who has 272 blocked shots in 106 games at Carolina, would be a big mismatch for the Catamounts, who don’t start a player taller than 6-8.

“I don’t think it’s affecting us,” Zeller said. “We would love to have John play. He’s a fantastic player, a great rebounder, shot blocker, and he can score. So all-around he’s a fantastic player. But we also have confidence in our substitutes, and John Michael especially, we have a lot of confidence in him to be able to step up and fit in the role.”

Who to watch:

North Carolina’s Kendall Marshall: The Tar Heels point guard has 330 assists this season, an UNC and ACC single-season record. Marshall’s assist total is the fifth-highest in NCAA history -- he needs only four more to move into fourth place -- and his 9.71 assists per game were the most by a sophomore in NCAA history.

North Carolina’s Tyler Zeller: The ACC Player of the Year led the conference in field goal percentage (56.9 percent) and offensive rebounds (four per game), was second in rebounds (9.7), third in scoring (18.5 points) and sixth in free throw percentage (83.3 percent).

Vermont’s Four McGlynn: McGlynn’s real name is Patrick McGlynn IV, but he goes by “Four.” McGlynn, a freshman from York, Pa., didn’t start a game all season, but he led the Catamounts with 12 points per game. He shot 39.3 percent on 3-pointers and 88.7 percent on foul shots.

What to watch: Pace of play. The Tar Heels average 82 points per game, which is No. 2 in NCAA Division I. The Catamounts gave up 80 points only one time in 35 games, an 80-75 loss to Long Island, which was No. 3 nationally in scoring with 81.9 points per game. Vermont held 23 of its last 24 opponents to 70 points or fewer in regulation.

ATLANTA — It didn’t put the Zeller brothers in the same region (Tyler’s Tar Heels are the No. 1 seed in the Midwest, Cody’s Indiana Hoosiers are a No. 4 seed in the South). And there’s no rematch with UNLV, the first team to beat North Carolina this season.

But the NCAA Selection Committee on Sunday couldn’t resist several potentially intriguing opponents for UNC, which will open NCAA play next Friday in Greensboro.

A quick look:
  • If the Tar Heels get past Lamar or Vermont in their first game -- and no No. 1 seed has ever lost to a No. 16, remember -- they would match up with No. 8 Creighton (which plays No. 9 Alabama in its first game). That sets up a showdown between former high school teammates Harrison Barnes and Doug McDermott. Their Ames (Iowa) High School squad went 53-0 and won two state titles in their junior and senior seasons.
  • In-state rival NC State, which UNC beat three times this season (including in the ACC tournament semifinals), is the No. 11 seed in UNC’s region. The Wolfpack would have to win three games in order to meet the Tar Heels in the regional final. But it's a fun rematch of a rematch of a rematch to think about.
  • The Tar Heels could potentially face No. 4 seed Michigan in the Sweet 16. UNC beat the Wolverines for the 1993 national title, a game that included Chris Webber's infamous timeout. The game was in New Orleans -- site of this year's Final Four -- and was Dean Smith's second national title.
  • The No. 2 seed in Midwest Region is Kansas, UNC coach Roy Williams’ former team and the squad that beat the Tar Heels in the national semifinals in 2008. He drew lots of criticism for wearing a Jayhawks sticker while watching Kansas win the national title game that year.
  • And then there’s Kentucky, the top overall seed in the tournament, and the No. 1 in the South Region. The Tar Heels lost to the Wildcats by a point in early December in what is still considered one of the best games of the season. The teams would meet in the national championship game.
MIDWEST (St. Louis) REGION

Greensboro
Friday, March 16
No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 16 Lamar/Vermont winner
No. 8 Creighton vs. No. 9 Alabama

Nashville
Friday, March 16
No. 5 Temple vs. No. 12 California/USF winner
No. 4 Michigan vs. No. 13 Ohio

Columbus
Friday, March 16
No. 6 San Diego State vs. No. 11 NC State
No. 3 Georgetown vs. No. 14 Belmont

Omaha
Friday, March 16
No. 7 Saint Mary's vs. No. 10 Purdue
No. 2 Kansas vs. No. 15 Detroit

Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.

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