The North Carolina Tar Heels square off in one of the best rivalry in all of sports tonight, when they travel to Duke at 8 pm ET. UNC enters the game with a strong 21-4 record, with wins over Notre Dame, Florida State, and Wisconsin, as well as losses to Miami, Georgia Tech, Kentucky, and Indiana. The major wins on this team’s resume will keep them in line for a top seed, come tourney time. However, does Roy Williams’ team have the feel and look of a National Title contender? Last year, they fell in the championship game to Villanova, on a heartbreaker, but can they relive that magical run this year, or even close out the whole shebang this year?
North Carolina has been successful this year to their NBA sized bigs dominating the boards. Down low, Isaiah Hicks (12.8 ppg and 5.6 rpg) and Kennedy Meeks (12.6 ppg and 9.4 ppg) use their size to set the edge. However, the majority of this team’s scoring comes from two of the best players in the ACC, Justin Jackson (18.6 ppg and 4.8 rpg) and Joel Berry II (14.9 ppg and 4 apg). These four players are the basis of the team, yet it is their lack of a final starter to make this team complete that could put their hopes in jeopardy. In Theo Pinson’s limited return to action, he showed the impact he can make on both ends of the floor, but ultimately struggled to put the ball in the basket. He returns tonight against Duke, after missing three games due to an ankle injury.
Pomeroy ranks North Carolina as the 11th overall efficient team in the country, while being the 6th best offensively efficient team, and the 34th best defensively efficient team. From these statistics, North Carolina has no issues scoring, but could be helped by a greater presence on the defensive end. Pinson could help with that. When Pinson was playing in ACC play UNC failed to show the ability to get constant defensive stops against inferior teams, potentially leaving them susceptible to large upsets. Last year, Villanova ranked as Pomeroy’s 5th best defensively efficient team in the country. Two years ago, Duke ranked as Pomeroy’s 12th best defensively efficient team in the country. And three years ago, Connecticut ranked as Pomeroy’s 10th best defensively efficient team in the country. So there is a clear outlier here, unless UNC can figure out how to defend at the level of these other teams, they will not be cutting down the nets in March. However, they must be considered dangerous, with the amount of offensive weapons they have, as well as their experience in the tournament.
Tonight we will get an even ore insightful look into how North Carolina will perform against top tier talent. Even if they do not come out with in front of the Cameron Crazies, it is important to watch how their defense plays. If they continue to fail at getting stops, their title hopes are not realistic.