That’s why you should take the prediction I am about to make very seriously (I’m kidding). I think UNC is going to make the Final Four this season. I have a strong hunch that Luke Maye and Kenny Williams are about to make one last run deep into March. A hunch that is backed up by a few concrete reasons.
First, the pace of play that UNC employs on offense. North Carolina has played 10 games this year with 80 or more possessions. To put that in perspective, the last five seasons combined UNC played 10 such games. Those increased possessions have led to more points on the board. North Carolina averages 86.8 points per game, the most by a Roy Williams-coached team since the 2008-2009 season. That year, North Carolina won the national championship. Oh, and UNC still leads the nation in rebounding at 43.4 per game.
All that is to say that in the NCAA tournament, the game speed gets quicker — sorry, Virginia —and North Carolina will put up shot after shot against its opponents, giving it many opportunities to score. And when it doesn’t score, UNC will be able to corral its own misses.
Second, the way UNC plays on the road gives me reason to think the team will do well in March. North Carolina has not lost a game on the road in the ACC all season long, a stretch that includes wins at Louisville and Duke. The only road loss the Tar Heels suffered all season was at Michigan on Nov. 28. UNC has 11 road wins on the season, a number that eclipses any other team from the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac 12, American, Big East and SEC . The toughest thing to do in college basketball is win on the road, and UNC has proven it can, time and again.
Third, this is a really weak year in college basketball. And when I say really weak, I mean really, really, really weak. Gonzaga, the supposed No. 1 squad in the country? UNC beat that team by 13 points in a game that was never really close. Virginia? We all know what happens to Tony Bennett’s team in late March. Michigan State? I think Sparty is destined for another early exit.
The teams that I could see standing in UNC’s path are Kentucky, Duke, Tennessee and Michigan. The first two have sensational young talents, and the last two are teams that play really well together as a unit. However, there's a very good chance at least two of those teams will have to play each other before the last weekend of the college basketball season.
At the end of the day, who knows what will happen in the NCAA tournament. Most years it’s a crap shoot because Sister Jean was the only person who thought Loyola-Chicago would get to the Final Four last season.
But it’s fun to guess, and it’s even more fun if you somehow guess correctly. UNC has surprised me all year long because I certainly did not expect this team to be standing at 25-5 and 15-2 in the ACC. I knew Coby White was good, but I never thought he would be the most accomplished Tar Heel first-year since Tyler Hansbrough. Cameron Johnson has been raining down threes (47.9 percent) like it’s nobody’s busines,s and North Carolina plays a really effective team brand of basketball (19.4 assists per game).
I don’t know if UNC will get to the Final Four. But I like to think I make a pretty compelling argument in offering you my reasons why I think it could happen.
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