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March 11, 2012TUSCALOOSA | The University of Alabama basketball players and coaches had heard the same analysis as the rest of us. They knew the strength of their resume, the status that they had been accorded as a "lock" for the NCAA Tournament.
But as the field for the 2012 Tournament was announced on CBS, the regions kept clicking past. First the South bracket was filled. Then the West, and the East, and still no mention of Alabama from the studio host, Greg Gumbel.
"All I could think about was last year, sitting in the C.M. Newton Room, waiting and waiting and never getting called," senior forward JaMychal Green said.
"The longer we waited, the more nervous we got," junior forward Andrew Steele said.
Then, finally, the Midwest Regional bracket was announced - and in the matchup of No. 8 vs. No. 9 seeds, just where most experts projected it - was Alabama.
"I didn't think the celebration would be too extravagant, and it wasn't," Steele said. "But I was glad to see us in there."
"I'm just thankful for the opportunity, and we're going to make the best of it," Green said.
The Crimson Tide didn't expect a particularly easy draw, and it didn't get one. Alabama will return to NCAA play for the first time in six years on Friday, facing the No. 8 seed Creighton Blue Jays.
The winner of that game will face the winner between No. 1 seed North Carolina and either Lamar or Vermont, who will compete in a play-in game on Wednesday.
Tipoff for the UA game on Friday has been set for 12:40 p.m. on TBS.
The Alabama-Creighton game will feature a contrast of styles as vivid as the difference in the teams' crimson and blue coloration. While Alabama is one of the top defensive teams in the nation - currently
No. 9 in scoring defense per NCAA statistics, Creighton is one of the top offenses, leading the nation in field goal percentage (50.9) and ranking sixth in scoring offense at 80.0 points per game.
Doug McDermott, the son of coach Greg McDermott, averages 23.2 points per game.
Five different Blue Jay players have made at least 25 3-point shots on the season.
"We'll spend the next 24 hours gathering information on them," UA coach Anthony Grant said. "Obviously, they have had some impressive wins."
The Blue Jays (28-5) won the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament in St. Louis last week and will bring a seven-game winning streak into NCAA play.
Greg McDermott, in remarks reported by the Associated Press, spent less time talking about Alabama and more discussing his unhappiness with a No. 8 seed and the potential second-round matchup with North Carolina. Doug McDermott was a high school teammate of North Carolina star Harrison Barnes in Ames, Iowa.
"I'm not thrilled about the seed," the elder McDermott said. "The reality of it is, I think, unfortunately, sometimes people are after a story. I think we all know what that story is, to some extent."
Green admitted that a possible second-round match with North Carolina was intriguing for UA, as well, but toned down the forward-thinking rhetoric.
"Your mind tends to wander there," Green said when asked about North Carolina. "But we've got to stay focused."
Are you a die-hard Alabama football fan? Check out the latest recruiting news:
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225