ACC Basketball Preview: Can Anyone Stop North Carolina?

Steve LyerlyContributor IJanuary 2, 2009

Thirteen games, thirteen wins; all by double digits.

Notre Dame has been closest to catching Carolina, and they fell by 15 points in Maui.

With eight McDonald’s All-Americans on a roster that goes a legit 10 deep (11 if it weren’t for the injury to freshman Tyler Zeller), UNC not only has the talent to overwhelm opponents, it also has the depth.

Led by all-everything Tyler Hansbrough, the Heels have their eyes set on getting back to the Final Four and taking care of what they deem to be unfinished business—winning it all.  Anything less would be considered a failure. 

Thus, Carolina is the overwhelming favorite to repeat as ACC champs, but could get a challenge from a Duke squad that seems to have found an extra step under the guidance of Nolan Smith.  Coach K, in a surprising move, has relegated former starting point guard Greg Paulus to a sixth man role, and it appears to be working.

With its own cadre of Mickey D’s All-Americans, Duke has posted some solid early season wins at Purdue and against Xavier on a neutral floor.  Led by sharpshooter Jon Scheyer, versatile Kyle Singler, and athletic swingman Gerald Henderson, Duke is expected to give Carolina a run for conference supremacy. 

UNC opens the ACC season with Boston College at home before they get into the meat of the schedule against upstart Wake Forest on the road.  Dino Gaudio’s club could vie for the two spot should perennial power Duke slip up.

With stud true freshman Al-Farouq Aminu and the talented backcourt of Jeff Teague and Ish Smith, Wake might be the most athletic team in the ACC.  This early season contest will tell us a lot about the dangerous Deacs.

Clemson, currently undefeated, is our sleeper pick.  They finished 10-6 in conference play last year and made it to the finals of the ACC tournament. The Tigers have a solid group of core players, led by guards K.C. Rivers and Terrence Oglesby on the outside and Trevor Booker on the blocks down low.  Oliver Purnell’s bunch doesn’t have any superstars to speak of, but they play hard-nosed defense that keeps them in every game.

The rest of the ACC has some other quality teams in Miami and Maryland, but overall the conference is generally considered to be top heavy. 

There isn’t a team in the country, much less the ACC, that can match the Tar Heels in terms of talent and depth.  With all starters coming back from a 36-3 squad, the biggest weakness of UNC is their suspect defensive play.  It has been a point of emphasis by Roy Williams in the offseason and will continue to be throughout the year.

Scoring, however, shouldn’t be a problem against anyone, as all five starters average in double figures.  Teams will throw the kitchen sink at the Heels defensively to try to slow them down and limit their transition offense.  It’s just so difficult to keep Carolina contained for 40 minutes.

With Hansbrough, Thompson, and Davis down low, Ellington and Green on the perimeter, and Lawson playing the point at an All-American level, perhaps the only team that can slow UNC might just be the Heels themselves.  This is why we expect Carolina to cut down the nets in early April. 

IF, and that’s a big if, UNC can get past its two biggest away games against Wake and Duke, we could be talking about the first undefeated season in college basketball since the ’78 Hoosiers.

Related

    Zion Puts on Dunk Show in Duke Blowout Win

    College Basketball logo
    College Basketball

    Zion Puts on Dunk Show in Duke Blowout Win

    Alec Nathan
    via Bleacher Report

    Bacot Hopes Another 5-Star Joins Recruiting Class

    UNC Basketball logo
    UNC Basketball

    Bacot Hopes Another 5-Star Joins Recruiting Class

    Keeping It Heel
    via Keeping It Heel

    5-Star C Prospect Bacot Commits to UNC

    College Basketball logo
    College Basketball

    5-Star C Prospect Bacot Commits to UNC

    Kyle Newport
    via Bleacher Report

    UNC Lands 5-Star Center Armando Bacot

    UNC Basketball logo
    UNC Basketball

    UNC Lands 5-Star Center Armando Bacot

    Tar Heel Blog
    via Tar Heel Blog