There are two story lines besides the game itself today when top seed North Carolina (30-5 ~ 14-2 in the ACC) takes on No. 8 Creighton (29-5 ~ 14-4 in the MWC) in Greensboro Coliseum, tip off at 5:15 p.m. EST, televised by CBS. The first one will be whether or not junior power forward John Henson will play in this game, while the second one will be about two former high school team mates, UNC’s Harrison Barnes and Creighton’s Doug McDermott, taking the court as opponents with the winner heading to the Sweet Sixteen. I am sure head coach Roy Williams is a lot more worried about the first of the two story lines, where indications are that Henson is doing a lot better even if still hurting a bit, however the decision of playing the 6’11″ forward will come about an hour before the beginning of the today’s game. On a side note, even if the UNC coaching staff knew before then why would they want to tip their hat to the opponent.
Whether or not Henson plays the Tar Heels will have to go inside early and often as Creighton is not big in the paint and senior Tyler Zeller, Henson or freshman James McAdoo can do plenty of damage in the paint. No. 4 AP & ESPN/USA Today should be able to dominate on both sides when it comes to rebounding and that should give Carolina easy second chance points on offense and keep Creighton from doing the same. Even if the Heels go to Justin Watts when giving Zeller or McAdoo a breather (in case Henson does not play) the team should still be able to keep the opponents from getting many rebounds, be it on defense or on offense. The bigs will need to be aware of the double teams and be ready to pass to the open team mate, making the Bluejays work as hard as possible on defense.
In the back court the Heels will once again rely on Kendall Marshall to run their patented fast break and when in the half court to get the ball to the open team mate. However, of late, it seems that the sophomore floor general has found a new dimension to his game, whether taking the open shot when the opposition is doubling down on the bigs or driving the lane when given the chance. For Reggie Bullock, who will start next to Marshall, and P.J. Hairston, who will come in at the off guard, the key will be to hit their shots when they have them, putting even more pressure on the opponent’s defense not to double down in the paint. But for the three young men, as well as anyone else that comes off the bench to play in the back court, the pressure will be on the defensive side, where Creighton, who is third nationally in 3 pt shooting percentage at 42.5%, will be taking plenty of treys if given the opportunity.
Then, as usual, there is the player that can take over the game, or so we have come to believe he can, Barnes. In a game against his former team mate from Ames H.S. you have to believe he will be as psyched and ready to play especially in what might be his last “home court” type of game donning the carolina blue. With plenty of upsets already in this edition of the Big Dance the big dogs such as North Carolina have to make sure all come to play if they do not want to be part of the teams that have gone home way too early, such as Duke and Missouri. It is in this time of the season when someone like Barnes can shine and make a difference. Especially if Henson does not play look for the sophomore small forward to have a big time game, taking the shots needed and not pushing the issue.
The Vegas insiders have Carolina anywhere from an 8 to a 9 points favorite. I have to believe that the Tar Heels are going to win by more than that, as they begin to turn on the switch that is called March Madness. In the end I say the final score will be 81 to 67 in a game where UNC will work hard on both sides of the ball and show the college basketball world that there is more to this tournament than the Kentucky Wildcats. A win today will also give Carolina an easy third round game, as the Heels would face either No. 12 South Florida or No. 13 Ohio.