Finding the Right Formula for Success: The Tar Heels March to Madness


All season this year’s team has perhaps unfairly been compared to the 2009 Championship team. And while I do not believe this team is as good as 2009, I’m not sure the talent gap is as large as analysts argue. A couple of weeks ago, Jay Bilas, posed the question of who on the 2012 team would be a starter on the 2009 team. I feel confident in stating that John Henson and Harrison Barnes would easily be starters in 2009. Plus with the way Tyler Zeller is playing right now, he would be giving Psycho T a run for his money.

Talent is not what the 2012 team is lacking. The outstanding play of Reggie Bullock after Dexter Strickland’s injury is a testament to the depth of the talent on this team. Also, I think we have all noticed that James Michael McAdoo has stepped up his play and is starting to look like the McDonald’s All-American that we expected. Tyler Zeller, John Henson and Harrison Barnes are well on their way to 1st team All-ACC honors.  One of the reasons North Carolina is so dangerous and still mentioned among the top three teams in the country (regardless of rankings) is because they have so many weapons. It is almost as if Zeller, Henson and Barnes take turns as to who is going to put up a triple or double-double each game.

The Tar Heels have lost four games this season, and they have all hurt. Technically, the only bad loss was against FSU simply because of the margin of victory. On the other hand, they have key wins over Michigan State, Wisconsin and Virginia. The more I watch Duke play in Durham, the more confident I am that we can get revenge at Cameron in a few weeks. I also believe that on a neutral court, we would beat Kentucky in a rematch. UNC vs. Syracuse would be a battle of the titans, but I’m not sure Syracuse’s schedule has prepared them for teams from other conferences that they will face in the Big Dance. A team like Florida State, Virginia or Wisconsin could give the Orange real problems.

The Tar Heels are still very much in the hunt for the National Title. However, three things are going to have to come together for them to win it all. First of all Tyler Zeller has to continue his outstanding play. Z is becoming almost as automatic as Hansbrough was under the basket, and he’s got the numbers to prove it. Today, The Daily Tar Heel reported that Zeller appreciated the support from Carolina fans because he felt as though he had let them down Wednesday night. Yes, I know what happened in the final two minutes, but if scoring 23 points and 2 blocks is Zeller’s idea of letting fans down, I can’t wait to see what he has in store for us in future games.

Secondly, as our founding editor, Matt, pointed out in a tweet to me: Harrison Barnes has to show up every game. Barnes has the potential to take over games, and there are going to be times in March when the Tar Heels will need him to. The Tar Heels can win if Barnes has a quiet night, but they cannot win consistently. Finally, the Heels need a clutch 3-point shooter. Fortunately, the Tar Heels do not live and die by the three like the Blue Devils do. (Mark my words, Austin Rivers’ hoarding of the basketball will eventually hurt Duke when it really matters). But, the Heels do need a consistent three-point shooter. Once again, Barnes has the potential but thus far his beyond the arc performances have been hit or miss this season (pun intended). Unfortunately, perhaps the most explosive 3-point shooter on the roster is red-shirted in Leslie McDonald. However, I do think Reggie Bullock can become the go to 3 point guy in March. Bullock came to Chapel Hill, via Kinston, NC, the town that also gave us Jerry Stackhouse. Thus far, Bullock has been more impressive on the defensive end, but I believe that as his minutes increase and with more games under his belt that he will eventually hit his stride and become an almost automatic long-range shooter.

After the sting of the Duke game, we have to look at the big picture of the season. The fact is the Tar Heels are four points shy of having a mere two losses. This is not the 2009 team. This is not the 2005 team. This is the 2012 team, and they are still finding their way. One could argue that with the tough losses to Duke and FSU, that the Tar Heel team has more maturity and desire than Kentucky or Syracuse. It is easy to get used to winning. And yes, Carolina has had problems closing the deal this year. We all know that. But, it isn’t because of a shortage of talent. I still wouldn’t trade Tyler Zeller for all three of the Plumlee brothers. And I’ll take Harrison Barnes over Austin Rivers any day of the week. At least, Barnes knows what an assist is.