Contender Report: North Carolina
Last March, I started a wildly popular series at Aaron Torres Sports, titled, “Why They Will/Why They Won’t,” a detailed breakdown of each of college basketball contenders, and the strengths that made them favorites to win the National Championship, and shortfalls that might keep them from winning it all.
The series is back by demand, as we start counting down the days, hours and minutes until the NCAA Tournament kicks off in mid-March. First up, the North Carolina Tar Heels:
There’s no doubt that in just six short years in Chapel Hill, Roy Williams has gotten North Carolina back into the elite of college basketball. But after winning a National Championship in 2005, and with a new cast of college All-Stars on campus, this group of Tar Heels has yet to get the hardware that their predecessors did.
North Carolina will be the favorites going into the tournament, but do they have what it takes to be the last team standing?
Why They Will: North Carolina is college basketball’s deepest and most talented team, and there’s no one else even close. All five starters average in double figures, with Ed Davis, Bobby Frasor and Larry Drew adding depth off the bench. And the rich continue to get richer, as the Tar Heels just welcomed back former McDonald’s All-American Tyler Zeller who hasn’t played since early in the year. To show you the talent on this team, power forward Tyler Hansbrough may end up as the ACC’s all-time scoring leader by the end of the season, and he’s not even this teams MVP (point guard Ty Lawson is averaging 16 points and 6.5 assists per game) or best professional prospect (Lawson and shooting guard Wayne Ellington project to be better pros). After struggling at the turn of the new year, North Carolina has won 10 in a row, and is peaking at just the right time. This team is well coached, and most importantly is hungry after losing in the Elite Eight in 2007, and in the Final Four to eventual champion Kansas last year.
Why They Won’t: For a team which plays mostly juniors and seniors, there still doesn’t seem to be the commitment to defense needed to win a National Championship. The Tar Heels currently give up 71 points per game, good for 256 out of 330 Division I teams. In their loss to Wake Forest earlier in the year they gave up 91, and even in three of their recent wins have given up at least 80. The Tar Heels can score with anyone, but when push comes to shove, and they need to make defensive stops, who’s going to make them? North Carolina is the quintessential team that when guns are blazing, and are playing at their absolute best, can only beat themselves.
Analysis: This is the best team in college basketball, and still the heavy favorite to win come tournament time. Hansbrough, Ellington, Lawson or Danny Green (a versatile 6’9 small forward who I consider one of the most underrated players in college basketball), can go for 30 any night, and the Tar Heels can score as quickly and efficiently as anyone. North Carolina is the only team that can weather foul trouble or an injury to any starter (a huge factor come March), and be able to bring in an above average replacement off the bench. But beware of the Ides of March, and the defensive lapses that come with the Tar Heels recent victories. All it will take is one hot team (like Kansas in the first half last year), to send North Carolina home again, without the National Championship this group covets so dearly.
Photo Credit: ICON Sports Media