North Carolina's Harrison Barnes (40) and Vermont's Brendan Bald (20) chase a loose ball during the first half of an NCAA tournament second-round college basketball game in Greensboro, N.C., Friday, March 16, 2012. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
GREENSBORO, N.C. -- As Harrison Barnes and Doug McDermott won state championships together as high school teammates in Iowa, Barnes became one of the nation's top recruits while McDermott was the overlooked teammate.
They'll take the court on opposite sides today -- Barnes for North Carolina, McDermott for Creighton -- with a trip to the NCAA tournament's round of 16 at stake.
"It's crazy how far both of us have come," McDermott said Saturday. "I would've never guessed we'd be playing against each other on such a big stage."
Nor would most people have guessed in the preseason that it would be McDermott, not Barnes, capturing the most attention as a prolific scorer driving his team's attack.
Barnes said he noticed the possible matchup with his former Ames High School teammate as soon as the NCAA brackets were released.
"I think probably the state of Iowa will all watch," Barnes quipped.
McDermott, a 6-foot-7 sophomore, is averaging 23 points and eight rebounds per game for the eighth-seeded Bluejays (29-5). He's an All-America candidate who helped the Missouri Valley Conference program to its first NCAA tournament victory in 10 years on Friday against Alabama.
McDermott paces a potent offense that averages 79 points and leads the country in shooting at 50.7 percent.
Barnes, a 6-8 sophomore, is leading the top-seeded Tar Heels (30-5) in scoring at 17 per game. But he hasn't been the always-dominant player that many expected when he arrived in Chapel Hill, often content to blend in with talented teammates such as Tyler Zeller and John Henson.
McDermott and Barnes said they kept in contact all season, primarily through text messages.
While Barnes said he didn't think he'd match up much with McDermott on the court today, it's clear their storyline is a big focus in the Midwest Regional. The Greensboro Coliseum scoreboard showed a split-screen image from the broadcast feed of McDermott in the stands and Barnes on the bench Friday during the Tar Heels' win against Vermont.
McDermott teamed with Barnes to help Ames go 53-0 and win two state titles in their last two years together. McDermott often chauffeured Barnes around back then because the latter didn't have his driver's license.
Barnes was one of the nation's most sought-after recruits. He drew a constant stream of big-name coaches to Ames games, which McDermott said made the rest of the players up their intensity to play even better. North Carolina coach Roy Williams personally made 11 trips in a two-year span to recruit Barnes.
"I don't think Doug was overlooked, I really don't," Williams said. "I think he was a guy that just keeps getting better and better and he has grown taller and stronger and he's gotten better in every phase of the game."
McDermott scored 44 points on 18-for-23 shooting in a win over Bradley in January, and he's scored at least 30 six times this season. He's shooting 57 percent overall and 45 percent from 3-point range.
Creighton coach Greg McDermott, Doug's father, said Barnes' work ethic was unlike any he had ever seen in a high school player and that it rubbed off on his son. Barnes took note of how hard McDermott worked on his jumper.
"I wasn't necessarily the best shooter on the team, so I kind of looked at him for that," Barnes said. "And he probably saw the way I came in the gym and worked out and did certain things like that. ... So I think we both kind of fed off each other."
Barnes had a 40-point game as a freshman, but his season high is 27 against Texas in December.
"When a player's in the spotlight for a long time, there's so much more time to critique him," UNC point guard Kendall Marshall said. "I think that's something that's happened with Harrison. He's playing better than last year. He's defending better, he's rebounding better. So I don't know if people want him to average 20 (points) and 20 (rebounds) on an undefeated team, but it's not going to happen when you have as many great players as we have."
Of course, the Tar Heels still don't know whether they'll have their full lineup Sunday. Henson -- a 6-10 forward averaging 14 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks -- is still questionable to play due to a sprained left wrist sustained during the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament. Henson has missed the past three games.
North Carolina will again have the benefit of playing in front of a home-state crowd about an hour west of the Chapel Hill campus. The Tar Heels are 30-1 in NCAA games in their home state.
"We're feeling the pressure. This isn't a picnic, this isn't a vacation, this isn't take pictures of me on the floor with North Carolina,"' Greg McDermott said. "This is we're coming to try to win this game. And I think our guys, if we're going to go down, we'll go down swinging."