North Carolina Tar Heels

by Nick Swope | March 10th, 2009

Good Wins: @ Michigan State, Clemson, @ Florida State, Duke (2), @ Virginia Tech

Bad Losses: None

1. Star Power – While college basketball (as opposed to the NBA), is the essence of a team sport, North Carolina is loaded with individuals who can simply take over games. If Tyler Hansbrough doesn’t dominate, it’s usually because he is drawing double-teams, thus allowing his supporting cast to go crazy. Wayne Ellington can catch fire from long range, Ty Lawson almost single-handedly beat Duke in the second half of the game at Duke, and Danny Green has the ability to shut down an opponent’s offensive star on any given day (not to mention the fact that he is streaky from beyond the arc).

2. Depth and Balance – North Carolina is as deep as any team in the country. Coach Roy Williams can rotate nine or 10 players at will and his bench are as talented as plenty of NCAA Tournament teams’ starters. Hansbrough, Lawson, Ellington, Green and Deion Thompson all average double-figures in scoring.  Among those who come off the bench are guards Larry Drew III and senior Bobby Frasor, who is a capable shooter. Freshmen Ed Davis and back-from-injury Tyler Zeller look like future stars. Finally, no Tar Heel averages more than 30 minutes per game. This allows North Carolina to play up tempo and wear down opponents night in and night out.

2. Experience and Leadership – All five starters are either juniors or seniors.  Hansbrough, Lawson and Ellington turned down the NBA and returned to win a National Title. North Carolina has the experience it takes to win it all and a quiet leader in Hansbrough. On the floor leadership provided by Lawson should also be invaluable during the Big Dance, a tournament known for the importance of a competent floor general. His backup, Frasor, would be starting for mere mortal teams. After being handled by Kansas in last year’s Final Four, this team has every reason to stay focused throughout the entire tournament.

1. Defense. This is the biggest chink in North Carolina’s armor. In their three losses, the Tar Heels allowed at least 85 points. The good news for Williams and co. is that the Heels know how to play solid defense. They simply often prefer not to do so, instead trying get out on fast breaks at the expense of being fundamentally sound on the other end of the floor. It’s no secret that the Heels look to outscore their opponents, but to win a title they will have to play 40 full minutes of defense.

Other Factors:
Bench – Zeller’s return from a broken wrist could be a key factor in a run for the National Title. He–along with Davis, Hansbrough, and Thompson–gives Roy Williams four guys over 6’ 9” to funnel in and out. This ensures that the two starters—Hansbrough and Thompson—can be fresh down the stretch in close games.

Coach – Williams has a National Title (with the Heels in 2005) and has come oh so close to several more (most notably at Kansas in 2003). His NCAA Tournament experience can only help a group of stars that, on paper, don’t even appear to need it. Williams could be the different late in a close tournament game. The Heels just need to make sure not to have another first half like they did against Kansas last season.

The Departing – Hansbrough has been North Carolina’s most prominent player in recent history.  He will leave as the Heels all-time scoring leader and will most likely break J.J. Redick’s ACC scoring mark. His storied career would be complete with a National Title. You can bet his supporting cast will do everything in its power to help him get it. And if it happens, you can also bet that Hansbrough won’t be the only one departing Chapel Hill.

Tournament Prediction:
The Tar Heels, when they are at their best, are the most dominant team in the country.  With their depth, experience, and an incredibly high-powered offense, anything less than the National Title would be a disappointment. This year: National Champions

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