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ACC Basketball: UNC comes long way in short time

By Luke DeCock
Raleigh News & Observer
CHAPEL HILL ó The ACC has another national-title contender, and it isnít the defending national champion.
Duke still has a shot, even after the Blue Devils couldnít keep up with North Carolina on Saturday night, but the Tar Heels showed just how far they have come ó from last season, from a lackluster stretch to open this season and from last monthís loss to Duke in Durham.
Throw out a baffling loss to Georgia Tech, and the Tar Heels have spent two months getting better, culminating in an authoritative 81-67 victory over Duke. The team that lost in the third-place game in Puerto Rico finished atop the ACC basketball standings ó and has just as much of a chance to make a long NCAA tournament run as Duke.
The Blue Devils will have the higher NCAA seed, based on a more impressive overall resume, but there may not be any team playing any better than the Tar Heels. There certainly is not in the ACC.
ěA buddy told me Iíve gotten a lot smarter the last couple weeks,î North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. ěI didnít get any smarter, but my team got better. I said in November this was a team that was going to keep growing and getting better.î
If the Tar Heelsí growth needed underlining, consider a senior night ceremony oddly devoid of signature moments to recognize, without a single four-year scholarship senior on the roster and with would-be honoree Will Graves playing in Japan.
This very young team has come a very long way, with Harrison Barnes shaking off those early growing pains to become as clutch a player as there is in the ACC, John Henson flourishing in the post and Kendall Marshall taking over, period. Even Tyler Zeller admitted he wasnít sure, a few months back, that the Tar Heels could come this far, this fast.
ěPossible? Yes,î Zeller said. ěChances werenít very high. It was one of those things where we had the talent, we had the ability, but at that time we werenít playing nearly as good defense or offense as we are now.î
ěI think theyíre really good,î Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. ěI said that after we beat them in Cameron. I told you, I think theyíre as good a team as weíve played. That hasnít changed for me.î

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