5 Reasons Roy Williams' North Carolina Tar Heels Will Be Dancing This Year

James PattersonContributor IFebruary 26, 2011

5 Reasons Roy Williams' North Carolina Tar Heels Will Be Dancing This Year

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    It's hard to believe, but it's been almost two years since the North Carolina Tar Heels played a game in the NCAA Tournament. After a painful season that saw them finish 10th in the ACC, their lowest standing since the 2001-2002 campaign, this year's Carolina team appeared to be on the brink of another disaster after starting out this season with a 4-3 record following a loss to Illinois.

    But since the beginning of December, the Tar Heels have gone 16-3, posting an impressive 11-2 record in conference play heading into Sunday's match-up against Maryland in conference play.

    Here's a look at the Top 5 reasons why Carolina has turned its fortunes around and will be dancing in March.

Defense

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    North Carolina's defense was like a sieve at times last season, even giving up 103 points to Texas in a non-conference game. This year, the Tar Heels have clamped down on the defensive end, giving up only 65.5 ppg as opposed to 72.4 last season.

Harrison Barnes

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    While he hasn't put up All-American numbers as he was predicted to at the start of the season, Barnes has been a solid addition to the Tar Heels' lineup, accounting for 17.5 percent of the team's points. His 15.2 ppg in conference play puts him in the Top 10 in the ACC. Barnes has hit several game-winning shots for Carolina, including a last-minute three-pointer at Miami to wrap up a solid win on the road.

A Down Atlantic Coast Conference

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    It's not secret the ACC is having a down year. According to which RPI projections you believe, it's either their fourth- or fifth-best conference in the country this year. Last year six ACC teams made the Big Dance. This season, the league will be lucky to get four teams in.

    With 11 conference wins already in the bank thanks to a thin league, the Tar Heels are a virtual lock to make a return to the NCAA Tournament after last year's NIT run.

Addition by Subtraction

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    First the Wear twins, David and Travis, made a stunning announcement in the offseason that they'd be transferring to UCLA. Then in October, senior Will Graves was dismissed from the team for "failure to abide by team standards."

    As if that wasn't enough, Larry Drew II made the most shocking move of all, packing his bags and leaving Chapel Hill smack dab in the middle of the Heels' conference schedule.

    On paper, all the roster turmoil should have spelled doom for Carolina, but it seems to have had just the opposite effect. The Tar Heels are playing with more chemistry and running their offense with more precision.

Kendall Marshall

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    Perhaps the biggest revamp Roy Willams made to his Carolina squad was inserting freshman Kendall Marshall into the starting rotation toward the beginning of the ACC schedule. Since then, the Tar Heels have lost only two league games, a hiccup at Georgia Tech and a heartbreaking loss against the top-ranked Duke Blue Devils in Durham.

    Marshall has been a star at the point position, shooting up the rankings in assists, and now leads the ACC with 6.2 assists per game. If North Carolina makes a deep run in March, it will likely be thanks to the leadership and keen awareness of Marshall at point guard.