Following a heavy, 69-53, home loss to Duke heading into the 2013 ACC Tournament, North Carolina isn't being considered the title players it should be.
All the talk and the rage is surrounding their Blue Devil rivals, and if anybody can stop them in the tournament, understandably so. Duke has been electric since Ryan Kelly's return, has triumphed over the top teams and is undefeated with its star forward back from injury.
Duke has every claim to be favorites for the ACC, if not the best team in the country, and it's understandable therefore for the hype to be about them.
Yet at the same time, we must be quick to not shrug off the UNC Tar Heels, who are every bit as big a title threat as their rivals for this tournament.
The Tar Heels finished the regular NCAA season ranked top 20 in the country in points per game. That number went as high as top 12 for rebounds per game and as high as third when it comes to average assists per game. Yes, they've churned out some poor performances shooting the ball this season, but it shouldn't negate the fact that they are still a strong and dominant team at the moment.
If Duke's incredible form is being heralded as well, incredible, UNC must be given some slack for going down in that 16-point home loss. It was just one of those nights where everything Duke touched turned to gold, and they ended up running away with a momentum-filled victory.
Keep in mind that The Tar Heels shot poorly in that game—and they know it. From the moment that opening whistle went, UNC was taking poor looks outside instead of feeding the ball inside, and they'll know that it cost them a legitimate chance of challenging the Blue Devils here.
Expect that to change in the 2013 ACC Tournament, where UNC and Duke could be primed for a semifinal showdown to end all debate this season.
UNC hasn't won yet this year over Duke, but were they to win this one, the Tar Heels would claim ultimate bragging rights. They would be in with a huge chance of taking home the conference title, and the chance to cut those nets once more.
One loss to Duke—as hard as might be—is no need to panic for UNC, and it's no need for the rest of us to write them off as legitimate March contenders.
Their offensive strength alone makes them a real player this postseason, and if they can fix up some of their team chemistry and communication issues on defense, they'll give Duke, Miami and anybody else in the ACC a very troublesome time.
It hasn't been the strongest year from UNC, but they have shown real potential. Heading into the 2013 ACC Tournament, they only need a handful of strong performances to give them the ultimate prize this year—making them a definite danger to watch out for.
Sleeper team? Underrated?
Whichever way you want to look at it, expect a non-talked about UNC team to be a legitimate ACC title contender by the time the tournament begins.
Does UNC have what it takes to win the 2013 ACC Tournament?
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