Heels deal with lofty expectations
By Robbi Pickeral
Raleigh News & Observer
CHAPEL HILL ó North Carolina basketball coach Roy Williams sees the comparisons to the 2009 championship coming.
Like ë09, this yearís team returns multiple players who turned down the chance to enter the NBA draft early. Like ë09, these Tar Heels feel they have something to prove after finishing short of their national title goal last season.
Like ë09, they have talent, depth and a preseason No. 1 ranking in several publications.
But there is at least one key difference, Williams said: ěWe were the best team that year. The difference in this year and in ë09, I donít think that any one team stands out above the other.î
Unlike 2009, when Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington and Danny Green sometimes looked bored en route to winning 34 games, this seasonís squad ó led by Naismith candidates Harrison Barnes, Tyler Zeller (a reserve on that ë09 team), John Henson and Kendall Marshall ó isnít necessarily a slam dunk ahead of the rest of the pack in the top 10.
ěYouíve got Ohio State, with the best big guy in the country, and the surrounding cast around him,î Williams said. ěYouíve got Duke, where I think their three big guys are as good a trio of big guys in this league since Iíve been back, with the perimeter players as well.
ěKentucky has a wonderful recruiting class coming in, (plus) four guys that were big players for them last year. Connecticut won the whole blessed thing, and they only lost one guy.î
Also, he added, he knows heís leaving out several teams, including Louisville.
ěThis year, there are six or seven teams that can really be good,î he said.
The keys to rising above the pack?
One is staying healthy. With backup shooting guard Leslie McDonald already out indefinitely after tearing a ligament in his knee over the summer, the Tar Heels bench consists mostly of freshmen. Like most teams, North Carolina canít afford for any of its starters to get hurt.
Another emphasis: finding a consistent backup for Marshall. Junior Dexter Strickland, the starting shooting guard who slid into the backup ball-handler role after former starter Larry Drew II transferred in the middle of last season, said heís been told to prepare to back up the point, again. Freshman Stilman White is another possibility.
Williams said heís confident that this team, like the Tar Heels in ë09, has a chance to win the national title. He sees the comparisons, although the most important one will come at the end of the season.
ěA lot of the things that we went through, and are going through, are identical in some ways,î he said, remembering ë09. ě … But the reality is, this team hasnít done anything yet. They just look good on paper.î