Ok, I lied. I don't really have 1,311 reasons that the Tar Heels will win it all this year. In fact, I don't even have 11 reasons. And I don't need them. All you need to know is that if Ty Lawson is healthy, this UNC squad will still be standing when all the other teams have been sent home.
After last year's embarrassing 84-66 loss in the Final Four to Kansas, it looked as though the window of opportunity had closed. In a span of just a few days, Lawson, Danny Green, and Wayne Ellington all threw their name in the hat for the NBA draft.
But, after testing the waters and assessing their draft status, all three decided to return to Chapel Hill to make another run at the national title.
Fast forward to 2009. Instead of facing teams like the Celtics, Suns, or Spurs, these almost-pros will be taking on the likes of the Highlanders. That's right. The Radford Highlanders from the Big South Conference.
Good news, bad news for Radford. Good news: They have a chance to face the winner or LSU/Butler in the second round of the tournament. Bad news: In order to do so they must face a Final Four team returning its 5 leading scorers, including the ACC player of the year, Ty Lawson.
Radford boasts a 21-11 record, which is pretty good considering they started off the year at 4-9. The bright spot for Radford lies in their frontcourt. Artsiom Parakhouski, a 6'11'' center, averaged 16 points and 11 rebounds a game, while winning Big South player of the year honors.
The biggest challenge for Radford will be keeping up long enough for Parakhouski to matter.
The Tar Heels average a blistering 91.2 points per game. And the ignitor for that pace is none other than Lawson. After sitting out the ACC tournament last weekend, Lawson and his swollen big toe should be ready to run.
The matchup problems for the Highlanders aren't just in the frontcourt. The backcourt of senior Kenny Thomas and junior Amir Johnson average 33 and 36 minutes a game, respectively. Which means the pace Lawson will set, eventually will wear them down.
And as long as Lawson is healthy, you will continue to see the Tar Heels push the ball at every opportunity. Look for Carolina to go inside to Tyler Hansbrough and Deon Thompson forcing Parakhouski to play both ends of the floor without getting into foul trouble.
The matchup bodes well for the Heels to get out to an early lead and never look back. If for some reason Lawson is unable to go in the first round, you should still see the Tar Heels make it through to face the winner of the Butler/LSU game.
If Butler finds a way past LSU, the matchup is really good on paper for North Carolina. While Butler has quick guards and shoot 3's in bunches, they don't really have the talent inside to matchup with the bigs from UNC.
Also, the inexperience of the Bulldogs wouldn't help their chances with a tournament foe like senior-laden Carolina, especially playing in Greensboro. Butler only returns one starter from last year's tournament team and starts two freshman.
LSU, on the other hand, would be a much more difficult challenge. They are an extremely athletic, up-tempo team that would love to get out and run with the Heels.
They also out rebound their opponents by an average of 5.5 boards a game, which provides them lots of second chance opportunities.
Led by high scoring guard Marcus Thornton and forward Tasmin Mitchell, the Tigers of LSU have shown the talent to play with the best in the country.
Thornton is touted by some to be this year's Stephan Curry. The type of player to take a team on his back deep into the tournament.
The consolation for the Tar Heels, no matter who they play, is the fact that Ty Lawson has had over a week to rest that big toe. And as long as he is the one handling the ball for Carolina, you won't even need to consider the other 1,310 reasons. Just go ahead and buy your tickets to the championship game and enjoy the ride.
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