Devils, Heels, Eagles set to open play

Mar. 20, 2014 @ 10:59 PM

RALEIGH — There’s only one way for Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood to hang a banner in the Cameron Indoor Stadium rafters in their first — and maybe only — season playing together for Duke.

Lead the Blue Devils to a national title.

A handful of clunkers kept them from winning either the ACC’s regular-season or tournament championship.

They know they can’t afford any more — and it starts with their NCAA tournament opener against 14th-seeded Mercer.

No. 3 seed Duke (26-8) takes on the Atlantic Sun champion Bears (26-8) on Friday in the second round of the Midwest Regional.

Hood said the Blue Devils are “treating it like our last game, because if we lose, it is.”

Parker, the ACC’s freshman of the year, led the league in rebounding with an average of 8.8 and was its second-leading scorer, averaging 19.3 points.

Hood, a redshirt sophomore who transferred from Mississippi State, added 16.4 points per game.

Both have been labeled as potential NBA draft entrants, and though neither one has announced his plans, coach Mike Krzyzewski said at last week’s ACC tournament that “I wish we had him for more than one year.”

Parker said “this may be the last time we might play together with the guys on the team.”

He’s running out of chances this year to make his mark on a Duke program that under Krzyzewski has won four national titles and reached 11 Final Fours — but has only one since 2004.

Friday’s game marks the NCAA tournament debut for Hood, Parker — and for everybody in a Mercer uniform.

The Bears are in the tournament for the first time since 1985 and just the third time in school history.

North Carolina out to regroup against Providence

SAN ANTONIO — Providence pulled one upset to get to the NCAA tournament. Sticking around will demand another.

No. 11 seed Providence makes its first tournament appearance in a decade Friday against sixth-seeded North Carolina, which also remembers 2004: that was the last time the Tar Heels stumbled into the tourney on a two-game slide, and they’re in the same rut again.

The Friars (23-11) got an automatic bid by winning the Big East tournament over Creighton, which got a No. 3 seed.

“As I sit here today, I’m enjoying this more than you know,” said Providence coach Ed Cooley, whose Friars haven’t won in the tournament since 1997.

North Carolina (23-9) arrived in Texas shadowed more by frustration than fanfare. Coach Roy Williams let a profanity slip Thursday while reflecting on a season that included star P.J. Hairston sidelined for violating NCAA rules. Academic scandal has also enveloped the university.

That’s to say nothing of the Tar Heels’ up-and-down performance on the court. They started 1-4 in the ACC, regrouped to win 12 in a row and then dropped their last two games.

But Williams said his players aren’t the source of his frustration.

“It’s been a marvelous group. If it hadn’t been for my team, I would’ve jumped off the top of the building,” Williams said. “My team is the one that was the savior throughout the whole season, and since the off-season. It’s been a tough time around Chapel Hill.”

N.C. Central enjoying their moment

SAN ANTONIO — When North Carolina Central made the move from Division II to Division I, the dream was always about making the NCAA tournament.

Three years into their journey at the top level of college basketball, they’re here.

Their reward? A No. 14 seed in the East Regional with a second-round matchup Friday against third-seeded and Big 12 tournament champion Iowa State.

“We understand that this is big boy basketball,” coach LeVelle Moton said. “We definitely have our hands full.”

Given their venture into new territory, Moton will have to guard against his players simply getting overwhelmed by the moment.

Back in Durham, a billboard on the interstate leading out of town congratulates both North Carolina Central and perennial power Duke for making the tournament. And soon after the team arrived at the AT&T Center for Thursday night’s practice, players joked that they thought police motorcycles around their bus were responding to an accident, not escorting them to the arena.

North Carolina Central (28-5) wants to be the latest Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference team to pull off a tournament upset. Coppin State, Hampton and Norfolk State put the MEAC on the map with early round stunners in years past. Those wins show it can be done again, Eagles guard Emanuel Chapman said.

“It’s a lot easier to cope with us being on this level to know that (MEAC) teams have been successful before,” Chapman said.

Iowa State (26-7) will take more note of what the Eagles have done this season: A 20-game win streak, a road win at North Carolina State and a close loss at Wichita State, the only undefeated team in the country and the No. 1 seed in the Midwest.

“When we go to prep for this team, it’s like going to prep for a team like Kansas: a dominant team in their league,” Cyclones sophomore forward Georges Niang said. “We’re not underestimating anyone in this tournament. We for sure have to respect them.”

What should have been a perfect week for Moton was punctured by an accident at home.

Moton said on Tuesday, his 1-year old son spilled hot coffee on his face and is in the hospital. He did not describe his son’s condition but noted that his wife and daughter have stayed behind and he’s alone in his San Antonio hotel.

“It just doesn’t feel the same without my son, my daughter, my wife who have sacrificed so much to allow me to become a better person and a better basketball coach,” Moton said. “That’s put the pin in my balloon. I’ve got to get myself together, which I will.”