With five NCAA tournament titles already in their trophy case and two since Roy Williams took over behind the bench, the North Carolina Tar Heels are one of the most pedigreed teams in the entire bracket. They came away from last year’s tournament the runners-up after Kris Jenkins beat the buzzer to give Villanova its second ever national title and first since 1985, but with UNC returning 11 players from that team, the Tar Heels not only have a barrel full of talent and one of the best coaches in NCAA history, they have plenty of experience too.
The Tar Heels are the +600 favorites to win this year’s edition of March Madness over at BetOnline and they’ll be my pick to come away from the big dance with yet another Division I NCAAB title.
Here are the three reasons why I came to that conclusion:
They’re Deep, Talented and Experienced
UNC has long been one of the best recruiting schools in the nation and that’s led to the Tar Heels having deep teams with players who stick around because of the history of success on the national stage. This season, nine players on the team are averaging more than 13 minutes per game and four of them – all returnees – are averaging more than 12 points per game. With that kind of layered production, UNC rarely gets in foul trouble and can normally rely on the big dogs to play big minutes when it comes down to crunch time.
Roy Williams’ squad is not only deep, though, it’s extremely talented with Joel Berry III and ACC player of the year Justin Jackson leading the way. The sophomore forward leads his team in scoring this year with 18.1 points per game but contributes in other areas as well, collecting 4.6 boards per game along with nearly three assists. The Tomball, Texas native is projected as a late first-round pick in the upcoming NBA draft and will be the go-to guy when the Heels are in need of a bucket.
One of the biggest advantages held by UNC is the experience gained by making it to the final of last year’s tournament and keeping most of that second-place squad intact – losing Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige to the NBA draft. There is some precedent for the tournament runner-up coming back and winning the next season as both the ’91 Duke and ’98 Kentucky teams accomplished the feat with the Tar Heels also going all the way in 1982 under Dean Smith after losing to Bob Knight’s Hoosiers the previous year.
They Burn the Candle at Both Ends – in a good way
Two of the [obvious] staples in the formula for a bracket-winning basketball team are a good offense and a good defense. UNC ranks in the top 25 in both of those categories and has all the necessary ingredients to keep that going in the tournament with their extremely repeatable recipe for success.
The three offensive components to that recipe are: methodical ball movement, big men who can finish inside, and a respectable arsenal of 3-point shooters who can knock it down when called upon. As the No. 1 rebounding team in the nation, the Tar Heels don’t give up second-chance points and pour in a fair amount of their own with an average of 15.8 offensive boards per game.
UNC doesn’t rely too much on jump shots for production so as long as the big boys don’t forget how to lay the ball up, they shouldn’t have a problem finding points.
Luck of the Draw
On its surface, the South is a stacked region with 24 total NCAA Division 1 championships between the top three teams. If you look a little closer at the 2 and 3 seeds, however, it becomes clear why the Tar Heels were given the top seed and why they should plow their way through their Southern competition.
Many are touting UCLA, the highest-scoring team in the nation, as the squad most capable of knocking off the Heels – but with the Bruins possessing the 256th-ranked scoring defense, I vehemently disagree. Additionally, the Bruins offense relies much too heavily on freshman Lonzo Ball and I’m not ready to call this guy the reincarnation of the Kemba Walker that led the UConn Huskies to a title back in 2011.
The John Calipari-coached Kentucky Wildcats are the other threat in the bracket but, luckily, UNC will have to play just one of them. Kentucky is cut out of the same cloth as the Bruins with a rookie guard, Malik Monk, leading the way with 20.5 points per game. But as we’ve seen in recent years, high-volume guards can’t shoot the lights out every game and when they’re cold, it can get ugly.
It’s once they reach the Final Four that UNC’s experience in the tournament will really show and with Roy Williams reaching the big dance three of the four times he’s made it to the semifinals, I like the Heels’ chances to claim their sixth national title if they make it out of the South.