Posted on 13 March 2012.
North Carolina has two questions entering the Midwest Regional:
How is star forward John Henson’s wrist?
And why might the No. 1 Tar Heels have to play second-seeded Kansas so close to Kansas’ campus?
The second question could prove to be irrelevant, seeing how the Tar Heels and Jayhawks have to win three games each to set up a 1 vs. 2 matchup in the regional final. But if they win those three games — and both teams will be favored in those games, duh — North Carolina would face Kansas in a game within a four-drive the campus of the higher-seeded Jayhawks.
And Kansas fans travel.
In other words, if Kansas and UNC meet in the region final, UNC fans will have the tickets allotted to their program … and Kansas fans will pretty much have the rest.
Meanwhile, North Carolina will have to answer a series of John Henson questions: Does he play with the wrist injury that knocked him out of the final two games of the ACC tournament? If so, how well? If he doesn’t play, is freshman backup James Michael McAdoo ready for such pressure? And if Henson doesn’t play, and the Tar Heels win three games to reach the region final, do they risk rocking the boat by reintroducing him to the lineup for the Elite Eight?
Five main storylines
1. Alabama got tough, and it worked: Alabama coach Anthony Grant kicked his second-best player off the team in February, and the Crimson Tide responded by winning six of their final 10 games to earn an NCAA bid without Tony Mitchell. They also played four of those games without star JaMychal Green, and one without key guards Trevor Releford and Andrew Steele.
2. But what’s for Father’s Day, huh? For his father’s 51st birthday, Detroit guard Ray McCallum Jr. scored 21 points to lead the Titans past Valparaiso for the Horizon League championship and a berth in the NCAA field. Ray Jr. was one of the top guards in the country coming out of high school, but he turned down bigger schools to play for his father at Detroit. So he’s the gift that gives the whole year ’round. Like the Jelly of the Month Club, only better.
3. The “other” father-son story … : … might be even better than the one at Detroit. At Creighton, Greg McDermott has rediscovered his Missouri Valley Conference comfort zone after four trying years at Iowa State, where his teams went 59-68. McDermott, who won big at Northern Iowa from 2001-06, returned to the Valley at Creighton, and is led by his son, Doug — who is at Creighton only because coaches at bigger schools, including his father at Iowa State — weren’t convinced he could play at that level. Weird.
4. Watch the birdie: San Diego State sophomore guard Jamaal Franklin was the Mountain West Player of the Year this season, but he made his biggest headlines in the conference title game when he appeared — according to reporters courtside — to flip off a referee after being called for a foul. Franklin denied it afterward.
5. The obligatory “that sneaky committee” stuff: Michigan vs. Ohio in the first round? That’s cute. Michigan in the same region as former Michigan coach Steve Fisher? That’s cool. But the idea that North Carolina and Kansas could meet on the region final, almost 55 years to the day after UNC and Kansas played their memorable three-overtime national title game, is just too much. (Sarcasm!)
Midwest Regional Picks Who will win: I’m not sure about John Henson’s wrist. The Tar Heels act like he’ll play in the NCAA tourney, and maybe he will. But I’m not sure. And because I’m not sure, I’m going with Kansas — which is good enough to win whether Henson is there or not. So it says right here that Kansas, with the best player in this regional in Thomas Robinson, advances to New Orleans.
Dark horse pick: I don’t like any of the true “dark horses” in this regional — Belmont, Creighton, St. Mary’s … not for me. So I’m going with the palest dark horse pick of all time, the 11th-seeded Wolfpack from, um, North Carolina State. From the ACC. With two national titles in its history. But they’re the only double-digit seed I see advancing to the Round of 16, so shaddup!
Most likely upset: N.C. State over San Diego State is so easy, it’s a shame. The Aztecs manhandled their conference, but I’m not a huge believer in the X-and-O ability of Steve Fisher (or whoever’s coaching that team, behind the scenes). So if you want an easy pick, pencil in North Carolina State as the winner of this game in the Round of 64. But if it doesn’t work, don’t come crying to me. Next time, think for yourself. Ahem.
Best mascot: Gotta go with St. Mary’s, if only because I love the song Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald by Gordon Lightfoot, and this haunting lyric: “That good ship and crew was a bone to be chewed, when the gaels of November came early.” That said, a Titan (from Detroit) is kind of cool too. I also like the Lamar mascot, whatever it is.
Best point guard: Easiest category here. Kendall Marshall is a throwback point guard, back to the days when the point guard looked to set up his teammates even if he could score 20 himself. And Marshall can score 20 himself. But with all those great options, he’d be a fool not to share the ball, and he does. His assist-turnover ratio of nearly 3.6 to 1 was best in the country — by a lot. But he has topped 20 points twice in the last six games, and had 15 in the ACC title game against Florida State.
Best post player: OK, I take that back. This is the easiest category in the regional. Kansas’ Thomas Robinson is the second-best player, any position, in the country (behind only Kentucky’s Anthony Davis … don’t get mad, Kansas fans; I called T-Rob second best in the whole damn country!). Robinson is second nationally in rebounding, by the way, at 11.8 boards per game.
Best coach: Roy Williams and Bill Self have national titles, and so does Steve Fisher (kind of), but if I needed one coach in this regional to draw up one play to win one game, the guy holding the grease board would be Michigan’s John Beilein. And I wouldn’t think twice about it.
Best reputation: Troll alert! Whatever I say, someone gets angry. North Carolina, or Kansas. Kansas, or North Carolina. Well, I probably should use Wilt Chamberlain as the trump card, and so I will: Since North Carolina managed to beat Kansas in 1957 even though Kansas had Wilt Chamberlain, the edge goes to the Tar Heels. But barely.
Five stars on display
1. Thomas Robinson: He averages 17.9 ppg, 11.8 rpg and one block per game, and even pitches in 1.9 assists. What a guy! He shoots 53.1 percent from the floor, which is good but not great, and 68.3 percent from the foul line. Which isn’t all that good. Still, he’s a monster.
2. Doug McDermott: He might be the best shooter in the college game since, um, ever? He shoots 61 percent from the floor … and he’s a wing player! A big wing player — who also hits 49.5 percent on 3-pointers. McDermott was third nationally at 23.2 ppg, and added 8.2 rpg.
3. North Carolina’s Tyler Zeller: This guy has gotten markedly better each year, and as a senior is averaging 16.4 ppg and 9.2 rpg. Plus he shoots 55.4 percent from the floor and 80.8 percent from the line.
4. Purdue’s Robbie Hummel: He missed the 2010-11 season with a torn ACL, but he came back better than ever, statistically. Hummel averaged a career-best 16.3 ppg, 7.1 rpg and 1.2 bpg, and while his shooting percentages dipped, he’s still an 83-percent shooter from the line, and 37 percent on 3-pointers.
5. St. Mary’s Rob Jones: You have to love an undersized junkyard dog like Jones, who goes 6-foot-6, 240 pounds — and averages 14.8 ppg, 10.7 rpg, 2.3 apg and 1.6 steals.
Six random notes
1. Since excoriating his seniors in a memorably cruel rant, Lamar coach Pat Knight has seen his team win its past six games, including three in the Southland Conference tournament.
2. After posting only one double-double in the regular season, Georgetown center Henry Sims (11.7 ppg., 6.2 rpg) put up point-rebound monsters of 20 and 13 against Pittsburgh and 22 and 15 against Cincinnati in the Big East tournament.
3. The stats say N.C. State had some of the best players in the ACC. Point guard Lorenzo Brown led the league in steals (1.8 per game) and was second in assists (6.4). Scott Wood led in 3-point shooting (41.1 percent). And C.J. Leslie was in the top 10 in scoring (14.6 ppg, ninth) and rebounding (7.5, seventh).
4. Typical of a John Beilein team, Michigan has players all over the court who can hit the 3-pointer. Five Wolverines made at least 38 shots behind the arc this season, led by Trey Burke with 55, Zack Novack with 52 and Tim Hardaway Jr. with 51.
5. The Cal Bears don’t have any one player whose numbers will knock your socks off, but man are they balanced. Four different guys score in double figures, and five average at least five rebounds. But that includes Richard Solomon, who was declared ineligible at midseason.
6. Temple wins with the high-scoring, three-guard backcourt of Ramone Moore (17.7 ppg), Khalif Wyatt (17.1 ppg) and Juan Fernandez (11.4 ppg). All three average between three and four assists per game and shoot at least 38.6 percent on 3-pointers, too.
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