Harrison Barnes Key to North Carolina's Tournament Hopes Staying Alive

Bill DiFilippoContributor IIIMarch 21, 2012

GREENSBORO, NC - MARCH 18:  Harrison Barnes #40 of the North Carolina Tar Heels shoots the ball over Gregory Echenique of the Creighton Blue Jays during the third round of the 2012 NCAA Men's Basketball Championship at Greensboro Coliseum on March 18, 2012 in Greensboro, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

The injury to Kendall Marshall’s wrist will be almost impossible for the North Carolina Tar Heels to overcome.

While guys like Stillman White, Justin Watts and PJ Hairston can do an admirable job running the point, they will never be anywhere near the level of Marshall. This isn’t necessarily an insult, since Marshall is probably the best point guard in the country, but that’s a discussion for another day.

While other guys will need to step up, there is one above all others that needs to truly raise his game to another level, reach all of his considerable potential, and carry the Tar Heels if they want to have a shot at a National Championship.

The man is not Tyler Zeller. Zeller has gone above and beyond all expectations en route to becoming a force down low.

The man is not John Henson. While his wrist isn’t totally healed, he is still the center of the Tar Heels’ defense and is playing as well as he has been all season.

It’s not Reggie Bullock, James Michael McAdoo or Hairston. All three have their own niches in the Carolina game plan, but aren’t quite experienced enough to carry the team.

None of these men have the talent, potential or killer instinct to take over games like one Tar Heel. This Tar Heel has showed flashes of absolute dominance over his career, but has also shown the tendency to be passive.

When he’s passive, we know him as Harrison Barnes.

When he dominates like he can, we know him as The Black Falcon.

I know what some of you are thinking: “Barnes is playing some really good basketball right now, how can he play any better?” I completely understand, but allow me to entertain that thought.

In his last eight games, Harrison Barnes has mostly been Harrison Barnes. 42% from the field, 14.7 points per game, 5.7 rebounds per game and some solid defense. Not extraordinary, but pretty good.

However, in these games, Barnes has had moments where he has morphed into The Black Falcon. His back-to-back three-point daggers against Creighton were incredibly clutch. His 23 point, seven rebound clinic against Florida State’s stingy defense may have been his most impressive outing of the year. For stretches of time, Harrison Barnes gets the mentality of, “nobody is going to stop me.”

When he does this, surprisingly enough, nobody stops him.

The problem with Barnes is that these stretches are just that, stretches. He’s a 19 year old who happens to be really, really good at basketball. He doesn’t understand how to put the pedal to the metal and when to back off. All the intangible things that come with experience have yet to really come to Barnes, and honestly that’s something we should all expect out of someone who isn’t turning 20 until May 30.

If there is one reason for optimism with Barnes, it is this: when he is locked in and goes into Black Falcon mode, he is the best wing player in all of college basketball. His shot becomes crisper, his ball handling becomes otherworldly, and his ability to create his own shot suddenly improves dramatically.

I know this, you know this and based on his interviews with the media, I think Harrison Barnes knows this.

If Harrison Barnes doesn’t know this, there’s a good chance the Tar Heels aren’t going to the Final Four this year.

If Harrison Barnes knows this, and he becomes The Black Falcon for long enough stretches of time, he can do incredible things. These things include, but are not limited to, carrying North Carolina, single-highhandedly beat basketball teams and most importantly compensate for the loss of this year’s most indispensable Tar Heel.


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