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Previewing the North Carolina Tar Heels

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Outside of Duke there’s not a team in the ACC that can match the talent of North Carolina (16-5, 6-1). The Tar Heels have on their roster six consensus top-25 recruits, where the rest of the ACC (minus Duke) combines for seven spread amongst ten teams. They also have Harrison Barnes who’s the only player in the conference that was the consensus #1 recruit in the country for any year. Suffice it to say that they’re talented.

The problem (for UNC fans) is that they were equally as talented last year, yet they went 5-11 in conference and barely skated into the NIT. Then this year looked eerily similar in the early going with four out-of-conference losses followed by an early ACC embarrassment to Georgia Tech, 78-58. Coach Roy Williams, seeking to right the ship, benched junior PG Larry Drew II in favor of freshman Kendall Marshall. UNC then not only ripped off four straight conference wins, but did it by outscoring opponents by a remarkable .22 points per possession. Freshly benched Larry Drew also responded by having his best four game series with 19 assists to 4 turnovers, and he was getting minutes relatively equal to his starting minutes. But then the Drew family (including Larry Sr, head coach of the Atlanta Hawks) decided that Roy Williams wasn’t doing his job, and they got involved. Roy’s job, it turns out, was to promote Larry II to NBA scouts rather than doing frivolous things such as trying to win, and Larry Sr called Coach Williams and informed him that his son was leaving the program. Larry II’s teammates found out via Facebook, and it’s hard to say exactly how broken up they were by the news.

So now Kendall Marshall, who’s better than Drew at virtually everything a PG can do besides defense, steps in to the full time role, with Dexter Strickland as his backup. Meanwhile Drew will most likely be headed to Europe to earn his way onto an NBA roster.

More after the break.

The resurgent Tar Heels are led by the trio of 7’ C Tyler Zeller, 6’11" F John Henson, and 6’8" F Harrison Barnes. Zeller has come into his own as a junior, and is UNC’s most efficient player as well as their leading scorer at 14 ppg. The willowy Henson has stepped up his game, doubling his rates from his freshman season, now averaging 10.9 ppg and 8.4 rpg. But the player who’s come alive during the recent win streak is freshman phenom Harrison Barnes. After a year and a half of playing selfish basketball, the uber talented Heels are realizing that team play may be warranted, and that the newcomer Barnes is better than all of them. In the last three games he’s averaged 20.3 ppg, and is doing it from both inside and outside. Should the Heels continue to play like a college team they’ll contend with Duke for the #1 seed in the ACC tourney. If they degrade back to trying to impress NBA scouts then programs like FSU have a chance to finish 2nd in the league.

Pomeroy has UNC -9, whereas Vegas opened at UNC -7.5. This isn’t a must win for the Noles, but should we beat them we’d get off the 8/9 seed projection and begin to get into the territory where teams can actually make a run in the NCAAs. Terrance Shannon is out indefinitely after knee surgery, and junior Xavier Gibson is back practicing with the team, though doubtful for Sunday. The game tips at 2pm on Fox Sports National.