Originally posted on Midwest Sports Fans  |  Last updated 3/16/12

There are 16 “Round of 32″ games on Saturday and Sunday as the most exciting weekend of the sports calendar continues. As we always do every March here at MSF, we try to cover you with previews, informed and reasoned predictions, and pertinent viewing info as soon as we can get it posted.

In this post, we preview the much-anticipated Midwest Region second round matchup between Harrison Barnes’ #1-seeded North Carolina Tar Heels and Doug McDermott’s #8-seeded Creighton Bluejays. If you haven’t heard (surely you have) the two were high school teammates.

North Carolina-Creighton Game Info
  • Seeds & Region: #1 North Carolina v #8 Creighton in Midwest Region
  • Florida State-Cincinnati Date: Sunday, 3/18
  • Florida State-Cincinnati Tip Time: TBA
  • Florida State-Cincinnati Location: Greensboro
  • Florida State-Cincinnati TV: TBA
  • Florida State-Cincinnati Announcers: Jim Nantz and Clark Kellogg
  • Florida State-Cincinnati Point Spread: TBA
  • Tickets: North Carolina-Creighton Tickets
  • Tickets: Midwest Regional Tickets in St. Louis
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North Carolina-Creighton Analysis and Prediction

Creighton and North Carolina both advanced on Friday, albeit in very different ways.  The Bluejays erased a double-digit deficit and survived a rash of missed free throws to beat Alabama by one.  Not surprisingly, Doug McDermott led the way with 16 points and nine rebounds.  The Heels crushed Vermont by 19 points behind 17 points, 15 rebounds, and four blocks from Tyler Zeller.

The second round matchup between the two teams features two of the top offenses in the country, as Creighton ranks fifth in adjusted efficiency while the Tar Heels are close behind at number twelve.  North Carolina is significantly better on the defensive end though, as they rank 11th on defense while Creighton is nearly 200th.

The Bluejays lead the nation in effective field goal percentage and finished the season ranked third on both two- and three-pointers.  That should certainly provide a challenge, even for a Carolina team that finished 26th in effective field goal percentage defense.  A high block rate helped the Heels to the 29th best two-point defense in the country, although that would be diminished if John Henson misses another game.

The Heels don’t force many turnovers defensively, but they finished 25th in defensive rebounding percentage, which isn’t good news for a Creighton squad that doesn’t get many second chances.  UNC is also first in opponents’ free throw rate, so don’t expect the Bluejays to take many trips to the stripe.  The reality is that Creighton will need to get hot from long range in order to keep this close.  With sharpshooters like Doug McDermott, Jahenns Manigat, Josh Jones, and Ethan Wragge, that is definitely possible.

There is much less reason for optimism for Creighton defensively.  The Bluejays are 343rd in turnover rate, while North Carolina has the ninth lowest rate in the country.  Creighton is 190th in effective field goal defense as well, although UNC ranks just 138th.  Still, the Heels will pound it inside and attempt to get Gregory Echenique in foul trouble, which would really hamper the Bluejays defensively and on the glass.

It should also be a great battle on the glass, as the Tar Heels grab over 40 percent of their own misses, but Creighton ranks 10th in defensive rebounding percentage.  Again, it’s imperative that Echenique stays out of foul trouble for Creighton, but Tyler Zeller will definitely be a tough matchup.

One of the interesting storylines here is that Creighton star Doug McDermott and UNC sophomore Harrison Barnes played together in high school, so get ready to hear plenty about that.  The bigger question for North Carolina is how to defend McDermott given his ability to score both inside and out.  Henson’s length would likely give him issues, but his status is in doubt after injuring his wrist in the ACC Tournament and missing the game against Vermont.

The point guard matchup between Kendall Marshall and Antoine Young should be a good one as well, and Creighton will certainly need more from Young, who scored just two points against Alabama, if they want to spring the upset.

Ultimately I think the difference here will be Tyler Zeller on the inside (and in transition) and the fact that I just don’t see how Creighton slows down the Tar Heels enough on the defensive end.

Predicted Winner: North Carolina

Harrison Barnes and Doug McDermott were high school teammates in Ames, Iowa. Now they stand in each other's way on the road to the Sweet 16. (Photo by BILL NEIBERGALL/THE REGISTER)


North Carolina Tar Heels Team Capsule
  • Conference: ACC
  • Record: 29-5 (14-2 conf)
  • Last 10 Games: 9-1
  • Record vs. Tournament Teams: 9-5
  • Wins vs. Tournament Teams: Duke, Long Beach State, North Carolina State (3), Texas, UNC-Asheville, Virginia (2)
  • Losses vs. Tournament Teams: Duke, Florida State (2), Kentucky, UNLV
  • Player to Watch: Tyler Zeller (7’0” F, Sr.) – 16.5 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 1.3 bpg, 55.5 FG%

North Carolina Bottoms Line:

The Tar Heels came into the season as one of the favorites to win it all, and they hung onto a one seed despite losing to Florida State in the ACC Championship Game on Sunday.  For the year, they ranked 13th in offensive efficiency and 12th on the defense end, the latter of which probably surprises people.  They posted the lowest opponents’ free throw rate in the country and ranked inside the Top 30 in effective field goal percentage defense and defense rebounding percentage.  Just don’t count the Heels forcing many turnovers.  You also shouldn’t count on them turning it over at a high rate, as they rank ninth in the country there.

They are also ninth in offensive rebounding percentage, led to by the duo of Tyler Zeller and John Henson.  Zeller was second on the team in points, rebounds, and blocked shots while hitting over 55 percent from the field, and he earned ACC Player of the Year honors as well.  Henson injured his wrist in the ACC Tournament, but I would imagine he plays in the NCAAs.  He averaged a double-double for the season and blocked 2.9 shots per game as well.  Both guys posted strong rebounding rates on both ends of the floor, with Zeller finishing with the superior free throw rate.

Point guard Kendall Marshall doled out nearly 10 assists per game and finished with one of the top assist rates in the country.  Last year’s top incoming freshman Harrison Barnes led the team in scoring with 17.4 points per game to go with 5.2 rebounds.  Multiple backcourt injuries have placed more pressure on Reggie Bullock and P.J. Hairston, and both have shown flashes this season.  If Henson is healthy, the Heels have more than enough talent to get to the Final Four.

Creighton Bluejays Team Capsule
  • Conference: Missouri Valley
  • Record: 28-5 (14-4 conf)
  • Last 10 Games: 7-3
  • Record vs. Tournament Teams: 3-1
  • Wins vs. Tournament Teams: Long Beach State, San Diego State, Wichita State
  • Losses vs. Tournament Teams: Wichita State
  • Player to Watch: Doug McDermott (6’7″ F, So.) – 23.2 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 61.0 FG%, 49.5 3P%

Creighton Bottoms Line:

The Bluejays bounced back from a three-game losing streak in early February to win their final seven games, including Arch Madness. Creighton boasts one of the most prolific and most efficient offenses in the country, ranking fourth on KenPom. They are third in both two- and three-point shooting at 55.5% and 42.5%, respectively, and they are also in the Top 50 for turnover rate.

If you haven’t had the chance to see Doug McDermott play, I implore you to check him out. His shooting percentages and overall efficiency numbers are off the charts, and he can beat teams both inside and out. The Bluejays also have a tough, veteran point guard in Antoine Young, who can attack the basket and has shown the propensity to make clutch shots. Inside, Rutgers transfer Gregory Echenique provides a strong rebounding and shot-blocking presence inside. Creighton also has three other members of the rotation who make over 40 percent from three-point range, and Grant Gibbs does a little bit of everything for this squad.

The area where Creighton is most vulnerable is on the defensive end, where they rank in the middle of the pack in adjusted efficiency. Interestingly, they rate highly in defensive rebounding percentage and opponents’ free throw rate, but they are next to last in turnover rate and struggle to defend the three-point line. However, the Bluejays can score with the best of them and could be poised for a Davidson-esque run with McDermott playing the role of Steph Curry.

**********

Related: Jump to our Midwest Region Bracket Breakdown

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Then have a fun, exuberant, responsible St. Patrick’s Day celebration tomorrow, enjoying a Guinness or two while watching basketball. What could be better?

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