Monday, February 28, 2011

Are Tar Heels a Final Four Team?

I must admit, I hate when people ask if a team is a "Final Four team". In reality, about a third of the NCAA tournament field (about 23 teams) could realistically reach the Final Four. That doesn't even add in those other teams outside that list that tend to make runs.

In that aspect, yes North Carolina is a Final Four caliber team. However, do they have a good chance to do so?

Well, they do have a few things going for them. Roy Williams is a tournament vet who has been to six Final Fours and won two National Championships. The school, itself, has won two of the last six championships and went to half of the Final Fours in that time.

They are the best rebounding team in the country. They are one of the best scoring teams in the nation. While they aren't the most stout defense in the world, they're getting much better and the twin towers of Tyler Zeller and John Henson scare a lot of people. Most importantly, they are jelling at exactly the right time.

This team however, has next to zero NCAA tournament experience. Of their normal rotation of players, only Zeller knows what it is like to be in the NCAA Tournament -- and that is minimal. Zeller played sparingly in the Heels' run to the 2009 NCAA title. He played in only a few games that season after suffering a broken wrist in the second game of the season and missing a bulk of the year. The only other name on the roster with any experience is junior Justin Watts, who actually scored a bucket in garbage time in that title game.

Harrison Barnes? Freshman. Kendall Marshall? Freshman. Dexter Strickland and John Henson? Sophomores. The others in the rotation feature a sophomore (Leslie McDonald), freshman (Reggie Bullock) and a transfer (Justin Knox). None have been to the tournament.

This team also doesn't shoot the ball very well. They are just averging 45% from the field. Three pointers? Just 32%. And if they get into a tight game, their 66% free throw shooting could kill them.

Depth, if you can believe it, is also an issue. There is no backup point guard to Marshall. When Larry Drew II left school, he left the Heels without a capable backup (Strickland, the starting shooting guard, tries his best). They employ just three big men, making foul trouble a big concern. The calls are a bit tighter in tournament play -- especially when you are dealing with unfamiliar officials. Zeller is the Heels best post player on offense. Henson makes their defense what it is. Knox is solid, albeit unspectacular.

While they could end up as ACC regular season champions, the league is down this year and could get anywhere from three to six teams into the tournament. But the ACC is also like the rest of the country: down. Remember that people were wondering if Duke could go undefeated this year. UNC could end up winning the league instead of the near-unanimous favorites. If there was a year where this young Heels team could do some damage in March, this would be it.

Seeing a big run in the tournament seems unlikely. While I hope I'm wrong, there is just a lot of unknowns heading into the Dance. Ask any Carolina fan if that beats what the team went through last year and every one of them would take it.

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