NCAA Midwest Region preview

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Sports,College,John Keim

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Did you know ...

Former high school teammates could meet in the second round?

If Creighton and North Carolina advance, the game will pit Ames (Iowa) High School alumni Doug McDermott and Harrison Barnes against each another. Both are having terrific seasons, though it was expected of Barnes at North Carolina but not McDermott. The latter was not recruited by any major colleges. But his dad was fired as the coach at Iowa State, and both landed at Creighton. Now McDermott and Barnes are All-America candidates.

Key opening matchup

No. 8 Creighton vs. No. 9 Alabama

Offense vs. defense. You can't say that Creighton isn't worried about defense, but you can say the Bluejays worry more about their offense. Doug McDermott averages 23.2 points per game; he can score inside and he shot 49.5 percent beyond the 3-point line. But Alabama, playing in its first NCAA tournament since 2006, is a good defensive team, and perhaps the Crimson Tide have good karma after suspending four players a month ago. They have held opponents to 38.8 percent shooting.

The favorite

No. 1 North Carolina Tar Heels

Despite losing to Florida State in the ACC tournament championship, the Tar Heels earned this billing. They have one of the best players in the country in guard Harrison Barnes, a terrific point guard in Kendall Marshall and a center capable of big play in Tyler Zeller. John Henson, dealing with an injured wrist, is an elite athlete. There's not a lot to dislike here -- except for their inconsistency from the perimeter (on offense and defense).

The contender

No. 2 Kansas Jayhawks

Kansas is a complete team and has a national player of the year candidate in Thomas Robinson. The D.C. native averages 17.9 points and 11.8 rebounds a game. Meanwhile, guard Tyshawn Taylor averages 17.3 points and 4.8 assists per game. He has started 119 games in his career, and experienced guards are dangerous in the tourney. If not for getting upset in the Big 12 tournament, Kansas would be a solid No. 1 seed.

One and done

No. 6 San Diego State Aztecs

After losing the first six tournament games in school history, the Aztecs reached the Sweet 16 a year ago, losing to eventual champion Connecticut. San Diego State lost a lot from last season, so little was expected this year. But the Aztecs overachieved, with a knack for winning in the clutch (13-3 in games decided by eight points or less or in overtime). Still, they received too high a seed, and N.C. State has played well the past two weeks.

Cinderella

No. 14 Belmont Bruins

OK, we're not saying Belmont will beat Georgetown. It's hard to imagine a scenario in which the Hoyas would lose to a 14th seed in the first round. Ummm. Oh, yeah. But we're just sayin', you know? Belmont won 30 games last season and lost by one to Duke in the season opener. The Bruins play an exciting style and rank fourth in the NCAA in scoring at 81.5 points per game. Centers Mick Hedgepeth and Scott Saunders average a combined 20 points and 10.8 rebounds a game.

The Examiner predicts ...

No. 2 Kansas Jayhawks

The Jayhawks' big issue, aside from foul shooting, is depth -- only six players average more than 11 minutes per game -- but fatigue is not a worry, so if they avoid foul trouble they will be fine. One key will be the health of North Carolina's John Henson, who is dealing with a bad wrist. If he's not healthy, Kansas will emerge. Certainly Kansas would love nothing more than to knock off its former coach, Roy Williams.

jkeim@washingtonexaminer.com

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Author:

John Keim

Staff Reporter - Washington Redskins
The Washington Examiner