The North Carolina Tar Heels not only defeated the rival North Carolina State Wolfpack Wednesday night, they also returned a key player that enhances their hopes of a National Championship.
Perhaps I should have paid more attention to the stories released in the past weeks from Chapel Hill. When I heard the play-by-play announcer say Tyler Zeller was checking in, I was completely thrown off guard (in a good way).
Zeller suffered a broken wrist in North Carolina's second game of the season on Nov. 18 against Kentucky. Late in the game, with North Carolina leading by a good margin, Zeller was fouled hard by Ramon Harris on a breakaway, and thus broke his wrist. I had previously thought Zeller was not returning this season.
North Carolina just recently lost senior forward Marcus Ginyard for the remainder of the season with a stress fracture in his left foot. Granted, the Tar Heels have been playing very well lately, but with the thought of not having those two off the bench, the hopes of a National Championship looked somewhat grim.
But now, with the possibility of a seven-foot stud freshman coming off the bench, it replenishes the full optimism I had at the start of the season of this team being the last one standing in Detroit in early April.
Bringing him back now should help him get some seasoning under his belt before the start of the ACC Tournament. He only played eight minutes Wednesday night against NC State and looked a tad rusty. However, he has four games left to get his game back.
The first three are against relatively easy competition for the Heels, as they face Maryland, Georgia Tech, and Virginia Tech. Then on March 8, the Tar Heels host the ever-so hated rival Duke on senior day, in which they'll honor Danny Green and Tyler Hansbrough. That should be a day that inspires all that play for Chapel Hill.
I won't speculate the amount of success North Carolina will have after the regular season comes to an end, but as a fan of the team, you can imagine where my mind is at. With the return of Zeller, I can only be even more optimistic.