UNC Basketball: Projecting Tar Heels' Path to 2012 NCAA Championship
I've already given you the reasons North Carolina is destined to win it all. Now I will map out the Tar Heels' path through the gauntlet that is the 2012 NCAA Tournament.
Though the Midwest region appears to be fairly straight-forward in comparison to the rest of the NCAA tournament bracket, there will be a few surprises. I'm a big fan of the underdog, but I don't see any making it to the Sweet 16 from the Midwest.
There is sure to be a massive hike in ratings with the final three matchups I have laid out for UNC. They will be tough, but they will be what makes North Carolina strong enough mentally to dance in confetti and cut down the nets for the sixth time—the third with Roy Williams at the helm.
I can't predict health, so for the sake of this article we will assume John Henson will be healthy for the entire tournament.
But before I give it all away, let's go ahead and embark on this journey through the Madness of March.
Feel free to print out a 2012 NCAA Tournament bracket and follow along.
Second Round – UNC vs. Vermont
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After a 71-59 win over Lamar, the Vermont Catamounts will be facing the Tar Heels of North Carolina in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
Vermont would like to see a repeat of its 60-57 upset win over Syracuse in the 2005 NCAA tournament. The chances of that happening again are very slim.
Vermont isn't a great three-point-shooting team and that would be the only way I see this team sneaking past Carolina. The Catamounts do have a deep team, though, and their leading scorer in the Lamar game came off the bench.
Freshman guard Four McGlynn came off Vermont's bench to score 18 points and shot 3-of-5 from behind the arc. The entire bench put up a total of 35 points for the Catamounts.
I have no doubt this team will battle to the end with North Carolina, but it will be fighting from behind the whole game.
I expect the Tar Heels to jump on this team very quick and build up a big lead by the half. Last year, they probably overlook Vermont, but this team knows better now. They want to be in cruise control and that will take a strong first half.
UNC wins this one, 81-59.
Third Round – UNC vs. Creighton
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I see the Creighton Bluejays slipping by Alabama off their stellar three-point shooting. This is where things could get a little slippery for Carolina, too.
It's no secret that the Tar Heels' biggest weakness is their perimeter game—they proved that in the ACC championship against Florida State. They will be facing a Creighton team that shoots 42.5 percent from beyond the arc. That's good enough for third in the nation.
Couple that with Carolina's poor perimeter defense and shooting, and you have yourself a game—at least for the first 25 or 30 minutes.
The Bluejays are guard-heavy and I think their lack of size may do them in. There is no doubt their star forward Doug McDermott is a baller with a 23.2-point average, but he may be going toe to toe with one of the league's most prolific shot blockers in John Henson.
Harrison Barnes' athleticism may be the best way to slow down McDermott, but Creighton typically runs a three-guard set—and Coach Williams isn't going to have Henson defending a guard, I'm sure. Carolina may use more zone than usual because of this.
I see North Carolina jumping on them at first, but Creighton hanging in with the three-ball. By the 10-minute mark of the second half, I predict the size and transition game of the Tar Heels will become too much for the Bluejays.
North Carolina wins 91-75.
Sweet 16 – UNC vs. Michigan
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I don't think Michigan is a very good team, but they do have enough talent to skate by Ohio and Temple. Tim Hardaway Jr. isn't quite the shooter his dad was, but he does sport his father's athleticism and ball-handling skills.
Hardaway does get hot, though, and these guys love to shoot three-pointers. Zack Novak is their go-to guy for shots beyond the arc, knocking down nearly 42 percent of his shots from that range. They don't shoot well as a team from three-point range, but that doesn't stop them from trying.
Michigan shoots 35.2 percent from three-point range and has attempted 765 threes. In comparison, UNC shoots 34.4 percent from bonus land and has only attempted 486 three-pointers. Apparently Michigan isn't so quick on the uptake.
After fighting through a team—in Creighton—that buries threes on the regular, the Tar Heels will be happy to take on a team that just shoots itself to death.
Michigan only averages 66.5 pints per game—Carolina averages 82. The Wolverines defense is pretty good at 61.4 points per game, according to The Sports Network, but it doesn't face many high-scoring teams in the Big Ten.
Another guard-heavy team, the Wolverines will have a hard time sizing up with the Heels. They don't have an answer for the size of Barnes—or anyone, for that matter—and I expect this to be one of his biggest games. Barnes is going for 33 points in this game.
If Michigan doesn't come out on fire, this game will be over before the half.
UNC wins 86-61.
Elite Eight – UNC vs. Kansas
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I was tempted to have Kansas get knocked off in the first round, while we're being honest. I think Detroit gives the Jayhawks a nice scare that helps them push by St. Mary's and Georgetown.
No, there won't be an NC State rematch—I have them losing a close one to Georgetown.
Kansas is one of the few teams that sees above the trees with North Carolina. Kansas forward Thomas Robinson sizes up with Henson at 6'10" and has 17 extra pounds of meat. Henson will have to be on-point on defense, as Robinson scores 18 points per game.
The most pivotal matchup may be between UNC's Kendall Marshall and Reggie Bullock and Tyshawn Taylor and Elijah Johnson of Kansas. Taylor and Johnson take turns at the 1 and 2 positions, averaging 27 points and nearly nine assists per game between the two guards.
This may be the most evenly matched team Carolina faces in the tournament. It may be the most interesting, too, considering the history of Roy Williams and Kansas. I'm giving UNC the edge in this close battle, due to the rough road Kansas will endure.
North Carolina wins a tight one, 74-71.
Final Four – UNC vs. Florida State
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Here we go again.
FSU will go through St. Bonaventure, Cincinnati, Ohio State and Vanderbilt to get to this point. Unfortunately for the Seminoles, the third time against the Tar Heels will not be a charm.
Florida State has already gotten the best of North Carolina twice this season—once by 33 points and by three in the ACC championship. The Seminoles' top-notch perimeter play and impressive athleticism causes a lot of trouble for the Tar Heels.
UNC didn't have John Henson in the close championship game and I feel he will be the difference-maker in this one.
Of course, he doesn't improve the perimeter defense or scoring from behind the arc, but he gives Carolina a strong option on the inside it didn't have with freshman forward James Michael McAdoo.
Henson will also make the Seminoles have to rely on their perimeter game, with his ability to block and alter shots. This will affect their ball movement and I doubt we will see FSU out-assist UNC like it did in the championship. FSU had 21 assists to UNC's 12.
This will be Marshall's game. I expect him to match his two-game total of assists against Florida State, with 13 in this game. Tyler Zeller will lead the way with 23 points, but Marshall's play will be what propels the Tar Heels to the championship.
Carolina wins round three, 87-81.
2012 NCAA Championship – UNC vs. Kentucky
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The Kentucky Wildcats will march their way through the bracket, taking out Western Kentucky, Connecticut, Indiana, Duke and Marquette.
Earlier I did say that Kansas was probably the most evenly matched team that will face Carolina in the tournament. Well, if it isn't Kansas, it's definitely Kentucky. Both play with three forwards and two guards. Both have size and speed.
Kentucky's defense is stifling, giving up only 59 points per game through the regular season. There are few people that block more shots than John Henson, but Anthony Davis is one of them. Kentucky's freshman forward is 6'10” and 220 pounds like Henson, but he averages 4.62 blocks per game to Henson's 2.94.
As a matter of fact, Davis blocked Henson's shot in the final seconds of their last meeting on Dec. 3. If Henson's wrist keeps him out of any games, it won't be this one.
Davis also leads the Wildcats with 14.3 points per game. Their players don't put up astounding individual offensive stats, but they play very well as a team. Six Kentucky players average 9.4 points per game or more—four average double-digits.
The thing that makes this battle's outcome different than the last meeting is a better Carolina bench. P.J. Hairston is coming around and the Tar Heels desperately need their freshman guard to step up and continue to knock down three-pointers.
McAdoo has also gotten invaluable playing time with Henson out and has started to catch up to the college game.
Statistically, I would probably give Kentucky the edge. They have been much more consistent than the Heels throughout the season. Sometimes you just can't go by that, though.
Sometimes, it's just a feeling.
The North Carolina Tar Heels are hungrier than Kentucky. Tyler Zeller, John Henson and Harrison Barnes are ready for the NBA, but they do not want to leave without a championship—it would be Zeller's second. They played well in the 2011 NCAA Tournament, but lost to Kentucky.
They are hungry, like they were at Duke in the final game of the season. Marshall got aggressive and they continued to play well in the ACC tournament without John Henson. This group is ready to win—and why not make it against the team that knocked them out last year.
It will be one of the great championship games we have witnessed. It will go down to the wire and UNC will pull it out with a Harrison Barnes pull-up jumper at the buzzer.
North Carolina wins 79-78.