2007-2008 North Carolina Tar Heels
Record: 29-2 (14-2, 1st place ACC)
Quality Wins: @ Kentucky, @ Ohio St, Clemson (2), @ Duke
Key Losses: Maryland, Duke
NCAA Tournament Status: LOCK Strengths: Tyler Hansbrough, Wayne Ellington, Ty Lawson, etc. In short, North Carolina has an incredible amount of talent. Hansbrough is one of two leading candidates for National Player of the Year (along with Kansas State’s Michael Beasley) and is arguably the most difficult player in the country to guard due to his unorthodox offense and resiliency. Lawson, when healthy, is one of the nation’s fastest point guards and run Roy Williams’ offense quite well. Ellington is a tremendous scorer and finishes well on the break. Marcus Ginyard, Danny Green, Deon Thompson, and Alex Stepheson are all capable big-time players as well. However, outside of its talent, Carolina’s biggest strength is its toughness. After dealing with injuries throughout the 2008 calendar year, the Tar Heels have battled to remain atop the national rankings and become a favorite to advance deep into March (and April).
Weaknesses: Health. Ty Lawson’s ankle is still not 100% after a high ankle sprain suffered at Florida St on February 3rd. Deon Thompson has battled leg and back problems. Marcus Ginyard has toughed it out on two bad wheels. North Carolina Once on the court, Carolina can be streaky at times shooting the basketball, which allows teams to collapse on Hansbrough in the post. Thompson and Stepheson are not always consistent at the four and Quentin Thomas can be erratic at times at the point guard position behind Lawson. The Heels will not get healthier playing in the ACC Tournament, and will likely enter the NCAA Tournament still fighting the injury bug.
Key Player: Assuming Hansbrough is a given, Lawson becomes the key player for this team. In fact, many who follow Carolina said Lawson was the most indispensable player even prior to his injury. Lawson is the perfect guard for the Tar Heels’ offense, a one-man fastbreak who can stop on a dime to drop a dime on the break, or attack the basket for an easy bucket at will. His health and continued adjustment to being back on the court will likely dictate how far the Tar Heels can go.
X-Factor: Quentin Thomas. The senior point guard had struggled to remain healthy and play meaningful minutes until Lawson was injured earlier this year. Though many of the Tar Heel faithful pronounced the season as lost, Thomas came out and led his team to a 9-1 record while Lawson was out or limited over the final 10 games of the season. After Bobby Frasor was lost for the season, many wondered if Thomas was capable of even being a quality backup. Those questions have been answered, but his leadership and steady play alongside Lawson remain a major factor for this team in the upcoming month.
Style of Play: Think a slow, snail-like pace. Now think the exact opposite. Roy Williams would likely describe his offensive style as “Run, run, run.” Carolina averages nearly 90 points per game, forcing their tempo upon opponents. The Tar Heels play man-to-man defense nearly all the time, occasionally backing into a 1-3-1 zone to protect a player in foul trouble. Carolina also uses a ¾ court trap to effectively increase the tempo, usually coming out of a timeout and only for a few consecutive possessions in most cases. This team is quite physical, led by Hansbrough in the paint and Ginyard is one of the nation’s best on-the-ball, lockdown defenders.
Why North Carolina Will Win: Depth, rebounding, Hansbrough, talent
Why North Carolina Will Lose: Inability to stretch a defense by consistently making shots, occasional lack of defensive intensity
Tournament Prediction: North Carolina certainly has the pieces in place to make a deep run. In order to avoid bad karma or a jinx, let’s just leave it at that…
Editor’s Note: No doubt about it, Carolina is one of a handful of teams who can win in San Antonio. Roy Williams’ substitution patterns do give me pause a bit when it comes to Tournament games, but UNC can wear down opponents like few others. Despite Hansbrough’s tenacity, they’re perhaps not as solid inside as the team that won it all in 2005 with Sean May and David Noel, but if Stephenson and Thompson can put up 8pt-8reb kind of games on a consistent basis, you’d have to like this team’s chances.