North Carolina Tar Heels: Why all the Doubt?

The North Carolina Tar Heels seem to be the one seed under the most attack from critics. Why?

What is it about the North Carolina Tar Heels? While the team has its supporters, it seems that it has more doubters than any of the other seeds on the one line. Whether it is Seth Davis from Sports Illustrated and CBS Sports or Myron Metcalf of ESPN or speculation that Florida Gulf Coast is the most likely 16 seed to do the previously impossible, the Tar Heels have attracted high level critics.

Even their own have gotten a little into the act. Brendan Haywood picked Kentucky to beat the Heels in the Sweet Sixteen. Haywood may only be a year out of the pros, but he knows how the Tar Heels play their game.

So what is wrong with the Heels? Davis believes it is ‘guard play.’ One of my pet peeves is guard play. If guard play wins championships, why doesn’t Villanova win every year? Your guards need to be competent, sure. They need to be pluses and not minuses, but didn’t Duke have Jahlil Okafor last year? Didn’t they face a Wisconsin team with Frank Kaminsky? What of the Florida teams of the last decade?

My point is that the teams with real front courts usually rise above. Yes, Tyus Jones and Grayson Allen were important last year. Where would they have been without Okafor?

Yet let’s go with the ‘guard play’ charge. Joel Berry was the ACC Tournament MVP after three great defensive games against Pitt, Notre Dame, and Virginia. Oh, and he scored a few points in those games as well. Does anyone think Berry will rollover just because Providence sends out Kris Dunn or Kentucky plays Tyler Ulis?

That also ignores the other guard, Marcus Paige. Paige was the Preseason ACC Player of the Year. He has not ever quite got back from his injury, but Paige also had a good ACC Tournament. He had a monster defensive game against Malcolm Brogdon and his head has been in the right place. His three pointer has been wanting, but his confidence is still there. He showed that against Virginia.

So those are the starting back court. The subs, Nate Britt, Theo Pinson, and Kenny Williams are more role playing guys. Each has his purpose defensively. Britt and Williams have quick feet for ball pressure or denial. Pinson can be creative on the offensive side with good passing choices while offering flexibility on the defense.

Yes there is some concern when neither Berry nor Paige is on the court, but those instances are relatively rare.

Then there is the post. The Tar Heels come three deep with a fourth wheel there if needed. Kennedy Meeks is playing better though still not at pre-injury levels. Isaiah Hicks has stepped up. Brice Johnson ended up as a first team All-America this year. At least one of them has been effective even if the other two struggle or run into foul problems. Joel James can fill in defensively at no drop off, in fact he might be the best post defender of the group.

That strikes me as a pretty complete team. Then add to that that the Heels are playing their best ball right now. They blitzed Pitt and Notre Dame. They played Virginia at Virginia’s game and beat them at it. There is good reason to believe that they get it now, and that improved defense and hustle will continue as the NCAA Tournament goes.

The loss to Duke, the loss to Texas, the loss to Northern Iowa are all in the past. That team is not there now. Could Johnson do some silly things, yes. Yet this is a deep team with experience, the kind of team built for the grind of March. While I can understand those who think it is not a title team, I just don’t get the early exit voices.

Well, we will get first answers to those questions today when the Tar Heels play Florida Gulf Coast tonight at 7:20 PM.