The North Carolina Tar Heels advanced to the third round of the NCAA Tournament after a 19 point opening round victory against #16 seed Vermont on Friday. They will face #8 seed Creighton who knocked off #9 Alabama in a 58-57 thriller. Both games didn’t receive much press on Friday after a flurry of exciting finishes and upsets throughout the tourney. With two #2 seeds losing to #15 seeds within hours of one another, these two games just weren’t as flashy. But they both told us a lot about both teams and were entertaining games to watch, as most March Madness contests are.
Getting to know Creighton: The Creighton Blue Jays come in with a record of 29-5 overall, 14-4 conference. This is a good basketball team that will give Carolina some run. Especially if junior forward John Henson doesn’t suit up for the Tar Heels. Led by Harrison Barnes’ high school teammate Doug McDermott. McDermott is averaging 23 points per game on 60.8% shooting, 49.5% from beyond the arc. McDermott has evolved into the complete player in his sophomore year averaging 8.2 rebounds per night to go along with his outstanding offensive numbers.
The Blue Jays can really shoot the ball, leading the nation with shooting 50.7% from the field, they are well balanced on offense. Ranking second to only UNC in assists per game at 17.8 per night and ninth in scoring at 79.4 ppg. Three of Creighton’s starters shoot 50% or better from the field. This is a dangerous team and the Tar Heels will need to guard against the upset from the opening tip. This is a team that not only can pull off the upset but will come in confident they will do exactly that.
The knock against them of course is that they are apart of the Missouri Valley conference. Their strength of schedule was just #117 in the nation this year compared to Carolina at #10. Blue Jay fans will point out their 4-1 record against top 50 RPI this year and 2-1 record against the top 25 and I tend to agree.
What to Expect: Expect this to be a dog fight from the opening tip to the final whistle. Don’t expect Carolina to control the lead for the majority of the game as they will be a back and forth game. I expect Creighton to have a double digit lead at some point due to their incredible perimeter shooting. This team can fill it up in a hurry and we’ll see evidence of that today. I don’t see UNC taking much of, if any lead into halftime after weathering a storm of Blue Jay three pointers. The second half adjustments will be key and I think you might see Barnes take on McDermott in the second half. Expect Reggie Bullock to get that assignment in the first half, call it a gut feeling but I think Harrison is going to ask for the assignment in the second and Roy’s going to give it to him.
It’s going to be very interesting to see if junior forward John Henson plays. Carolina must control the boards here and not allow any second chance shots for the stellar shooting Creighton Blue Jays. They must control the tempo by controlling the glass and force Creighton out of their comfort zone. With Henson in the lineup that task isn’t nearly as daunting.
After a dog fight first half, Carolina will come out storming after the break. As good as Creighton is on the wings, defensively they don’t have anybody that can contain Tyler Zeller or John Henson inside. I expect those two along with small forward Harrison Barnes to come alive and light it up in the second half. UNC will finally take the lead for good with about six or seven minutes to go and finish putting away the Blue Jays.
Tar Heel Keys to Victory: This is exactly the type of team that stands a chance at upsetting the Tar Heels. Shooting 42% from beyond the arc and leading the nation in scoring, it’s all about the perimeter defense in this one. Creighton is a pretty good rebounding team, not on Carolinas level, that is if Henson plays. If Henson sits this one out, freshman James Michael McAdoo will once again be thrust into the starting lineup. He will have to produce in this one, especially off the glass. McAdoo looked strong offensively inside against Vermont in the opening round and has been coming alive as of late. The Heels cannot afford to have the freshman take a step back, he must continue to produce and improve his efficiency on both ends of the floor.
Point guard Kendall Marshall has been on a scoring tear as of late and that may need to continue. If Henson sits, his point production needs to be picked up from somewhere. Lately that has fallen on the shoulders of McAdoo and Marshall who have come through. Even if Henson does play, there is no guarantee he will be at 100% and there’s a good chance he’ll have to shake off the rust after sitting out the last three games.
Final Score and Player of the Game predictions: In a tight one, Carolina will pull away with about seven minutes left in the game and win by ten 77-67. Harrison Barnes has some added motivation here with his HS teammate putting up better numbers than him. Barnes will not allow McDermott to get the better of him today. I expect Barnes to be very aggressive offensively and lead the team over Creighton. 25 points, 8 rebounds and 4 assists for Barnes.