No. 4: These Are The 1 Seeds
Our Bold Prediction No. 4 is a look at North Carolina, the second No. 1 in our Preseason bracket.
In blowing a double-digit second half lead against Georgetown in last year’s regional final, the Tar Heels confirmed what many of their loyal fans had feared: North Carolina may have had the second-most talent (to Florida) of any team in the tournament, but it didn’t have the experience and veteran leadership necessary to advance to a Final Four. Carolina’s four best players – Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson, Brandon Wright, and Wayne Ellington – had a combined five regular seasons of college ball under their belts at that point, and that youth cost the Heels dearly late versus the Hoyas. As a new season opens, though, a renewed sense of anticipation has invaded Chapel Hill, as Roy Williams and Co. prep for what many believe will be a season full of sweet redemption. Yes, the Heels lost Wright to the NBA lottery, but top to bottom, North Carolina has a roster overflowing with talent and a team full of players who are amped to show everyone that they are now ready to win a title. The leader of this group is, of course, Hansbrough. The Wooden Award front-runner (and our preseason pick for POY) is a force in the paint and looks ripe for a 20-point, 10-rebound-per-game junior season. He will also – unofficially – lead the country in hustle plays, and may cause Dick Vitale’s head to finally explode if he drops 35 at the Dean Dome against Duke. Carolina also has the most explosive backcourt in the conference in the lightning-fast Lawson (the ACC’s second best guard) and the sharpshooting Ellington. Alex Stephenson and Deon Thompson will give Hansbrough all the help he needs down low, and the trio of Marcus Ginyard, Bobby Frasor, and Danny Green gives the Heels unparalleled flexibility, defense, and depth on the perimeter. Overall, the Heels appear to have no weaknesses. Most of the team’s core players are sophomores, but last year’s tourney run made this team a seasoned one quickly. A tough ACC schedule and an even more brutal OOC slate (UNC plays at Ohio State, at Kentucky, at Penn, and at Rutgers in one Major League Baseball-esque four-game roadie in Nov. and Dec.) will have the Heels ready to go come tourney time. As the season opens, an ACC title, a No. 1 seed, and a Final Four appearance look like pretty safe bets. The Tar Heels and their fans, want more than that, though; they want to leave San Antonio with a trunk full of hardware. With its talent pool, the Heels won’t have any built-in excuses if that doesn’t happen.