The North Carolina men's basketball team seems to be hitting its stride already, and we are only a week into January. This Tar Heel team came off the month of December undefeated at 7-0, becoming one of 7 Tar Heel teams to go unbeaten in December. Six of those teams went on to the Final Four, and the most recent, the 2005 squad, brought the title back to Chapel Hill.
How good is this team? It's hard to say really. With a cast of underclassmen - there is only one scholarship senior in Reyshawn Terry, and one other regular senior in Wes Miller - the Tar Heels were expected to win the ACC this year, but were going to have trouble distributing minutes to its talent-rich bench. The Tar Heels have had a moderate schedule thus far, defeating Tennessee, Ohio State and Kentucky this season by an average of 11.7 points, but other opponents have not struck as much fear into them as hoped. Aside from a slip-up against then-nationally ranked Gonzaga, the Tar Heels are a formidable 13-1, riding a 10-game winning streak into their ACC opener Sunday night at home against Florida State. This is usually a "trap" game for the Heels, as Florida State loves coming into the Smith Center to lay the upset on a highly-ranked Carolina team that is beating its chest and reading its press clippings. The Heels have beaten their last 3 opponents by an average of 35.6 points, and have won by 25 or more points in 6 or their last 7 games, and the one that wasn't by 25 points or more was a sound 21-point whipping of St. Louis on their home floor, which is just miles from first-team All-American C Tyler Hansbrough, who hails from Poplar Bluff, MO.
Speaking of Hansbrough, who has heard much from him this year? As an All-American as a freshman last year, he was expected to take double- and triple-teams all season long. He is still very productive, continuing to lead the 2nd-ranked Tar Heels in scoring (18.1 ppg) and rebounding (7.4 rpg). He is also tied for the team lead in steals with PG Ty Lawson with 22. So don't think he is being overlooked. It's just that the Tar Heels' talent is that rich this season. The Tar Heels legitimately can go 10 deep, and their second team could probably finish at or near the top of the ACC and contend for a national title. Freshmen PG Ty Lawson, G Wayne Ellington and PF Brandan Wright have given Hansbrough the help he needs offensively to get this team to outstanding offensive heights, averaging just a shade under 90 points per game. And their defense has recently become spectacular, allowing only 65 points per game, a 25-point differential.
Is it unreasonable to think that North Carolina will be playing in late March at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta? Not at all. In fact, it should be expected. With the rest of the ACC down this season, the Heels should roll through the ACC - although probably not unbeaten - and then take a #1 seed into the NCAA tournament. And although they will have a fight then, it's not out of the realm of possibilities to see them in Atlanta, and also hoisting the same trophy that they earned in '05, Roy Williams' first national title in his storied coaching career. All of this is possible, but let's not get ahead of ourselves. They are a very good basketball team. But there is a lot of season left, and remember, these kids are young. If they do continue rolling, look for this young team to become a potential dynasty in the years to come. That's assuming they all stay. And they could. With all of the balance in scoring and playing time these kids are getting now, a pro scout may feel that they are too much of role players to come out and star in the NBA right away. And that should keep Tar Heel fans smiling for years to come!