College Basketball: North Carolina Have Become NCAA Contenders By Defeating Duke

Matt FaulconerFeatured ColumnistMarch 6, 2011

College Basketball: North Carolina Have Become NCAA Contenders By Defeating Duke

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    If you missed last night's game, the University of North Carolina defeated Duke University by a score of 81-67 to win the ACC regular season championship on Saturday night.

    UNC struggled early in the season, but since the arrival of Kendall Marshall in the North Carolina starting lineup, things have changed for the Tar Heels.

    Harrison Barnes has stepped up his game lately, and this Tar Heel team will be looking forward to bigger things in the coming month.

    If you are wondering how UNC has become contenders over the last few months, here are five reasons they will be competing for another title:

5. Athleticism

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    The Tar Heels are one of the most athletic teams in college basketball.  They did not perform well at the beginning of the season, but since their loss to Texas on a last-second shot, they have only lost two games.

    North Carolina finished 14-2 in the ACC this season, with losses on the road to Duke and Georgia Tech.

    The Georgia Tech loss looks very poor for the Tar Heels. However, it was Larry Drew's last game as a starter and Roy Williams has only won once on the road against the Yellow Jackets.

    If anyone is looking for an example of athleticism, look at the spin move Kendall Marshall made on Seth Curry while driving the lane on Saturday night, or the steal Harrison Barnes had on Kyle Singler at the top of the key with just over 17 minutes to play and Duke creeping back into the game.

    Not only does North Carolina have athletic players on the perimeter, but John Henson is also one of the best defenders in the country and is very versatile in the players he can defend. 

    Tyler Zeller, on the other hand, is one of the best big men at running the floor to stretch the defense.

4. Energy

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    This North Carolina team plays with more energy than any other team in the country, at this point.  They hustle for every loose ball and are constantly giving 100 percent.

    Since the loss to Georgia Tech, this Carolina team has been laying everything out on the court and are really coming together.

    The fact that North Carolina has only one player that can come off the bench to backup John Henson and Tyler Zeller, shows the energy that those guys can play with, night in and night out.

3. Teamwork

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    North Carolina is used to recruiting some of the best players in the country; however, that doesn't always translate into wins.

    Last year, UNC struggled to mesh, and the team appeared to be out of sync for most of the season.  With the arrival of Harrison Barnes and Kendall Marshall, things have taken a turn for the better in Chapel Hill.

    There aren't many new faces in Chapel Hill this year, but Larry Drew has departed, and this North Carolina team looks more like a team and less like a bunch of talented players trying to improve their draft status.

    Not only did North Carolina's star players look good against Duke tonight, but their seniors, who are not even on a scholarship, shut down the Blue Devils for the first two minutes of the game.

2. Defense

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    Roy Williams has always been known as an offensive coach.  His teams at North Carolina have not been much different, as they have always been able to outrun opposing teams; however, things have changed in Chapel Hill.

    This is probably the best defensive team that Roy Williams has ever had, and they have proved it on a regular basis this season.

    North Carolina has yet to give up 80 points in an ACC game and only gave up more than 75 points two times, to Maryland and Duke.

    In fact, the biggest statement that the Tar Heels made this season was their ability to defeat Boston College in a game where they only scored 48 points. 

    In the past, UNC has relied on their ability to score to carry them to victory, however, now they have shown that they can win games with their defense carrying them to victory.

1. Kendall Marshall

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    Winning a National Championship is a daunting task for any team, however, no team can win a title without an elite point guard. 

    Kendall Marshall has risen to the occasion and is carrying the Tar Heels on offense.  He is averaging an assist for every four minutes he is on the floor and has over 150 assists in his freshman season.

    In the last month, Kendall Marshall has had three games in which he had double digit assists, and only one game where he did not have more than five assists. 

    While he is not a big-time scorer, he has been willing to take long-range shots, as well as drive the lane and attempt shots over opposing big men, something Larry Drew would not even consider.

    Marshall is one of the best passing point guards in the country and has shown the ability to take over games with his passing, not just in the game against Duke, but also when Carolina visited Clemson.

    If Marshall can continue this trend into the ACC Tournament and the NCAA tournament, UNC may be a serious threat to reach the Final Four and contend for their third title under Roy Williams.