by Rodimus Dunn
As much as it pains me to say write this, I’m pretty confident the North Carolina Tar Heels will win the NCAA tournament. The team that started out 4-3 has now turned into a 24-6 juggernaut that is 14-2 in the ACC conference. Much of it is was not by design, but the results are the same. Coach Roy Williams refuses to change is offensive strategy of pushing the ball at all costs, regardless of his personnel. Think back to last year’s disappointing 16-15 team. Williams continued to run with guards Larry Drew, Marcus Ginyard, and Dexter Strickland leading the attack. No offense to any of those guys, but they’re just not good basketball players. The game plan never changed, and the Tar Heels kept losing. This season was going in the same direction, until freshman Kendall Marshall took Drew’s minutes, and eventual starting gig. Marshall isn’t a star by any means, but he is well suited for a running attack. Subtracting the countless turnovers from Drew and Ginyard, combined with the current parity of NCAA basketball, makes UNC a top flight team.
With NBA general managers now drafting players based on potential, as opposed to actual output, and the mandatory one year in college rule, NCAA basketball teams are filled with below average talent and very few future NBA players. Why would a guy stay in college to hone his skills when some stupid GM is going to draft him in the lottery because he has really long arm? This year’s NBA draft looks like it will be completely based on long term potential, and the Tar Heels are the beneficiary. UNC has two players Harrison Barnes and John Henson, who will be sure fire lottery picks this June. Would they be top 15 players in a good draft? Probably not, but this is the current state of college basketball. In addition, their starting center, Tyler Zeller, will be picked in the first round if he decides to play professionally next year. How many tournament teams can send two lottery picks and a first round big man to the court each game? Only Kansas and Texas also hold this distinction. If Duke’s starting point guard Kyrie Irving wasn’t hurt, they’d probably be in the group of teams also. Carolina doesn’t have a very deep bench, but that’s much less important in the tournament, as your horses can play most of the minutes, so the talent disparity they have over most teams is magnified once March Madness begins.
Earlier I was critical of Roy Williams for not adapting his gameplan for his talent, but that game plan is hard to beat in a single elimination tournament. UNC relentlessly pushes the ball, and that’s very hard to prepare for if you’ve never seen it. In addition, even if you’ve seen it, how many of the non power schools have athletes the size and speed of the ones who go to Carolina? Because Marshall will push the ball, the Tar Heels regularly get easy baskets. The key to winning tournament games is to not go on long scoring droughts. Teams that rely so heavily on three point accuracy like Notre Dame and this year’s Duke team, generally don’t go far because defensive intensity is ratcheted upwards. Shooting 25% for the game on threes kills you when you shoot 22 in a game, and have no fast break baskets. It’s not so damaging for a team like Carolina because they only shoot about 15 per game, and don’t expect to shoot a high percentage. On the flip side, Carolina can beat you defensively just because of their size. Zeller isn’t a superstar, but he’s a big 7-footer who can change and block shots. John Henson may only weigh about 180 pounds (he’s listed at 210 lbs, but everyone knows that’s erroneous), but he basically has an 8-foot wing span, and he blocks more than 3 shots per game. Barnes has the length and body of an NBA small forward, so he can lock people down just by sheer presence (see Kyle Singler’s stats from 3/5/11).
Any way you slice it, Roy Williams and his Tar Heels are in for a deep tournament run, and may very well cut down the nets. Realistically the only team that I can see beating them is Kansas. The Jayhawks run a similar offense, so they won’t be surprised by Carolina’s track meet mentality, and they have even more talent than the Tar Heels. KU can send Josh Selby, Tyshawn Taylor, Thomas Robinson, and the Morris Twins out for every contest. All of them are considered 1st round picks, and maybe up to three of them may be picked in the lottery. The problem with picking Kansas is that they almost always chokes in one of the early rounds, so that leaves Carolina to headline One Shining Moment in Houston, Texas this April 4th.