North Carolina Tar Heels Basketball: Down the Stretch They Go

Tim CroleySenior Analyst IFebruary 20, 2008

With five games left in the regular season, including what is shaping up to be an epic rematch with the Duke Blue Devils in the season finale, the North Carolina Tar Heels once again have hope of finishing on top of the ACC (well, at least a share).

Isn’t it ironic that Duke is the one that should be given the most credit for this turn of events? I mean, after all, if they had not come completely unglued in the Wake Forest game, they would be sitting all alone at the top.

But now, the Heels have been given a chance to redeem themselves in so many ways, especially to avenge their loss earlier in the season to Duke.

Now, it is not a given that the Tar Heels will run the table leading up to the Duke game, even though three of the four teams they will play between now and then are sitting below .500 in the ACC.

N.C. State, Boston College, and Florida State all appear to be winnable games. The biggest threat will come with Wake Forest — the same Demon Deacon team that handed Duke a 13-point loss on Sunday.

But who can argue with a 26-2 record? Who can honestly argue that Tyler Hansbrough is not the most dominate player in college basketball right now — averaging 22.8 points and 10.6 rebounds per game — while leading his team to that 26-2 record and potential No. 1 seed in the tourney? 

Everything I know about college basketball (now you may want to consider that with your own discretion) leads me to believe that Roy Williams has his players ready to go, only looking forward, and learning from the mistakes of those two loses. Not with haughtiness or arrogance, but rather with a sense of will and determination, the Heels now look forward one game at a time, knowing that is exactly what it will take to lay hold of the coveted NCAA championship.

This is the lull of the season; the calm before the storm.

This is when a lot of fans are salivating in anticipation of the end of the regular season, the start of conference tournaments and of course, the launch of the Big Dance itself.

I’m sure that many coaches and players are doing the same as well. Just ask Memphis what their excuse was over the weekend when UAB nearly pulled off what would have been an upset for the ages.

Not to take away from the Blazers, but I am sure it had something to do with looking down the road (perhaps to the Tennessee game) before the tip-off ever came.

This is that time of the year when a lot of teams will either make or break. In fact, the college basketball world has witnessed several upheavals as of late. Drake proved this to be true last night when they were stunned by a Bradley team that probably will not even be dancing in the NIT.

And UNC is no exception. Just as soon as the boys in “Carolina Blue” get too comfortable, they will be the next to fall. The Tar Heels only require a remembrance of one thing to give them the necessary motivation to complete the task at hand: a February 6 loss at home to Duke, 89-78!

If that doesn’t give UNC reason enough to finish the goal they set-out to reach before the season even began, then they need to go ahead and throw in the towel!

Now, making a run down the stretch in the ACC is not an easy task by any measure, but if anyone can do it, it has to be this UNC team. This is not the same championship team of Sean May, Rashad McCants, and Raymond Felton, but they do possess a heart bigger than any I have seen in such a long time.

This Carolina team is not going to wow you with flashy moves and overwhelming athletic displays. However, they will take your breath away at times when they manage to find a way to come up with a steal or make an improbable block or sink a shot while being both triple-teamed and fouled.

On top of that they have a seasoned coach who has been down this road many times before. Roy Williams knows what it will take for his guys to win.

More importantly, Roy knows how to mold them, even in the midst of the season, so they will be shaped into winners in so many aspects. The end result of Williams’ formation of players always seems to be a well-rounded, more balanced basketball player, with a deeper, more complete knowledge of the game.

Through his humble teaching and mentoring, he will once again prove to be one of the most successful coaches in college basketball.

I for one believe that this Tar Heel team has what it takes to make something special of itself.

So down the stretch you go Tar Heel nation. Enjoy the ride, it should prove to be a thrilling one!