UNC's Harrison Barnes is eyeing the top spot in the 2011 NBA Draft this April.
Long seen as a potential top pick in the upcoming NBA Draft, Harrison Barnes had yet to have a truly standout game this season despite being one of the catalysts of the Tar Heels' recent 21-1 run (26-6 overall).
After his record-breaking 40-point performance in North Carolina's ACC Tournament semifinals victory over Clemson 92-87, scouts can finally rest easy and stop worrying whether Barnes would ever give a glimpse of his potential before the draft in April.
Barnes' first signature moment as a collegian included him breaking the freshman ACC Tournament scoring record and recording the highest-scoring output in the tourney since UNC's Charlie Scott scored 41 back in 1970.
Though his stats were impressive, to say the least, Barnes' poise on the court and penchant for momentum-swinging plays stood out most against Clemson.
Flashing improved form from behind the arc, Barnes helped get North Carolina into overtime with two key three-pointers in the final minute of the fourth quarter, including a huge three that set up Tyler Zeller's game-tying jump-hook.
Then, he finished off the Tigers with fourteen points in the extra period, going 3-for-3 from the field and 6-for-7 from the charity stripe to help close out the game.
Barnes' defensive display was just as inspiring as his offensive exhibition, as he spearheaded a North Carolina effort that clamped down on Clemson in the latter stages of the game.
His nose for the ball, both on the boards and the perimeter, along with his overall athleticism helped stymie a Tigers' squad that still shot 50 percent from the field despite being held scoreless for 7.5 consecutive minutes between the fourth quarter and OT.
While the 19-year old Barnes still has much to improve on (staying consistent from three-point range and bulking up), any questions regarding his drive and killer instinct should be quelled for the time being.
His wide array of skills with the basketball, most notably his impressive mid-range game and outstanding athleticism, reinforce the notion that Barnes does in fact have superstar potential.
With the NBA run by stars with similar skill sets (e.g. Kobe Bryant, Paul Pierce, Kevin Durant), it will be hard for teams to look past the obvious resemblance Barnes' game has to the NBA's elite come draft time.
For Barnes, the NCAA tournament, along the pressures that come with it, will make a great platform to cement his status as a legitimate candidate to be the draft's top pick.
Jesse Paguaga is a Featured Columnist for the New York Giants on Bleacher Report. He is a regular contributor to Baseball Digest in the BD Baseball Fantasy Department.
Jesse writes for Gotham Baseball, along with Gotham Hoops, Gotham Gridiron,and The Jerry Magwire Blog (http://thejerrymagwire.wordpress.com/).
He can be reached at Paguaga@usc.edu or can be found on Facebook and on Twitter http://twitter.com/#!/@jpags77.