To be honest, it’s championship or bust for the Tar Heels this year. But then again, when is it not? With the acquisition of 4-star and 5-star recruits every year, you should be perceived to win the whole tournament all the time. That’s what the culture is like in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. It’s a winning culture filled with great alumni, retired jerseys and championships. Last year’s team held no exceptions to this winning culture. This year’s squad doesn’t either. It even has some added pressure to perform well. With a 4-year long drought of a Final Four appearance (last appearance in 2009), Carolina’s winning ways have been challenged. Will they get to that illustrious Final Four in Houston this year? I believe so. Now let me tell you why.
All of our ducks are in a row. From senior guard Marcus Paige to our freshmen forward Luke Maye. Each player that suits up for UNC will provide a spark. Their were times last year when the Tar Heels would be on and off with great performances. Wow’ing you one week to only let you down and underperform the next week. That feeling is gone this year. As the talented recruiting class of 2014 featuring Joel Berry II, Theo Pinson, and Justin Jackson are no longer freshmen. Each has gotten better shooting the ball and scoring. Not to mention the development of all four of our big men. Isaiah Hicks and Brice Johnson to be specific, each year they have progressed in physicality and assertiveness on the court. I’m excited to see them dominate the competition. It just seems as though every player on this team knows the role they need to play in order for the team to win. A perfect puzzle to a championship caliber team.
The best part to a championship team in my opinion is it’s experience. Each player on this year’s squad was also on last year’s squad. With the exception of incoming freshmen recruits Luke Maye and Kenny Williams. But that level of experience, reaching the Sweet 16 against Wisconsin last year lets me know these guys are not only hungry, but also know what it takes to get past the second weekend of the tourney. Brice Johnson, Marcus Paige, and Joel James are the 3 remaining seniors on this team (not including the walk-on players). Two of those three with aspirations of continuing their playing days in the NBA. You mix that level of talent in with experience, you’re bound to get wins in the NCAA tournament come March. Mix that in with 3 juniors and sophomores each. You leave yourself only 2 freshmen respectively.
Those of you that may not know who played in the championship game last year, let me give you the answer. Duke and Wisconsin. Only Tar Heels fan will remember the hurt of these two schools getting the opportunity to play for it all because UNC had the chance to beat both teams. Leading in the 2nd half against Wisconsin with 7 minutes left. Only to be overpowered in the remaining minutes of the game, ending their season. UNC plays Duke twice a year because of the historic rivalry between the two. On both occasions, UNC lead in the 2nd half. You finish those games off and win them, you beat both championship caliber teams. That was last year with a lesser and younger squad. Now with the experience they possess, those same games this year will equal wins.
This is the fun part. You know when your team is so good that even when they make substitutions you’re still producing? Well that is the situation UNC has this year. With 3 talented point guards in Marcus Paige, Nate Britt, and Joel Berry, each guard holds a different talent. Marcus holds scoring ability and leadership. Nate is the scrappy defensive guard that gets assigned the opposing team’s best offensive player every game. Joel is a bulldog that can play both ways. But that’s not all! What about the wing position? You’ve got former high school McDonald’s All-American’s in both Theo Pinson and Justin Jackson. With their freshmen campaigns over with, they are bound to break out. But the most important part of our versatility is our big men. With 4 legitimate options to be inserted in the rotation, this team will need at least 2 of those options to be consistent every night. My picks are senior Brice Johnson and junior Isaiah Hicks. By position, every starter has a backup player that could legitimately be a starter anywhere else in the country.
Well, you have all of these factors above, but what or who will bring this all together? The answer is easy. This team’s best player and best leader is Marcus Paige by a long shot. This guy has been the leader of this school’s basketball team since late in his sophomore year. Leading by example by hitting clutch shots late in games while progressing in skill year after year. I know you’re probably thinking, how will a player lead his team to a championship when he’s never been to one? All I can say to answer that question is that this kid is a winner. I’d take this guy over any player in the country with a championship on the line.
With the season officially beginning Friday night against Temple, the number 1 ranked team in the nation begins its journey. They will have to do so without their leader in Marcus Paige; he suffered a fractured finger in his right hand in practice last week. He’ll be back in 3 to 4 weeks.
Enjoy the season as my prediction is a championship title for UNC!
Regular Season Record Prediction : 30-4.
Credits: Goheels.com (For Bio info), ACC and Getty Images (For the photos), UNC Tarheel Athletics Youtube Channel (For the video).