The North Carolina Tar Heels will enter the 2011-12 basketball season loaded with talent as they seek to add another title to their already storied history. With their entire starting line-up from last season's Elite Eight team returning to Chapel Hill, the Tar Heels should easily be the favorites to win it all in 2012.
With four potential NBA first-round picks in the starting line-up, and at least one more coming off the bench, North Carolina should have no problem entertaining its fans as it seeks to make yet another run towards the Final Four, the championship trophy and a visit to the White House.
Back in 2004 and 2008, the Tar Heels were in a similar situation as they are going into this upcoming season. Their rosters were full of stars seeking championship rings, and both of those teams accomplished that goal.
We could only hope that the 2011-12 North Carolina Tar Heels will do the exact same thing.
This slideshow takes an in-depth look at how the 2011-2012 Tar Heels compare to the championship teams from 2005 and 2009.
Felton averaged 12.9 points, 4.3 rebounds, 6.9 assists and two steals per game for the 2004-05 North Carolina Tar Heels. As the floor general of the team, Felton showcased his talents that earned him a spot on the All-ACC First Team by shooting the ball very well, especially behind the three-point line (.440 three-point shooting percentage), finding the open man on a consistent basis, and compiling a lot of steals by playing good defense.
Although he did turn the ball over a bit too much (3.6 turnover per game), his playmaking abilities and bulky body led the Tar Heels to a very impressive tournament run that ended with them winning the championship.
Felton was one of the biggest contributors to that championship team.
An incredible shooter and playmaker while at North Carolina, Lawson averaged 16.6 points, three rebounds, 6.6 assists and 2.1 steals per game during the 2008-09 season. What's even more impressive is that his shooting percentage was an admirable .532, including .472 percent behind the three-point line.
All this, including the fact he only turned the ball over 1.9 times per game, earned him the ACC Player of the Year Award and a Consensus Second Team All-American selection.
Although Marshall averaged only 6.2 points, 6.2 assists and 1.1 steal per game for the entire 2010-11 season, his averages rose significantly after a becoming the full-time starter at the point guard position when Larry Drew II decided to leave the team.
In the 16 games as a full-time starter, he averaged 8.8 points, 8.5 assists, 2.9 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game. His playmaking abilities were a big part of the success the Tar Heels enjoyed the second half of the season.
Sure, his ball-handling skills and shooting touch both could use some improvement during the offseason, as he did average 3.3 turnovers per game and shot only .380 percent from the floor in the 16 games as a full-time starter, but if he improved on those aspects of his game, the rest of the ACC and the entire NCAA better watch out.
As good as Marshall could become this season, he probably will not put up the type of numbers or be as important to his team as Lawson was to the 2008-09 North Carolina Tar Heels.
With that being said, he easily could average anywhere between 10 to 12 points per game and close to 10 assists per game with the offensive firepower that he will have around him.
If this prediction comes to fruition—and it easily could based on the strides he made throughout the entire 2010-11 season—he should earn a spot on the All-ACC Second Team without any debate, and maybe even the All-ACC First Team.
Also, if this prediction does come true, his contribution to the team will probably rank him ahead of Felton's contribution to the 2004-05 Tar Heels.
Ty Lawson: 3
Kendall Marshall: 2
Raymond Felton: 1
Mainly known for being a defensive specialist at North Carolina, Manuel averaged 5.5 points, 2.8 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 1.3 steals per game during the 2004-05 season. He wasn't a star in any way, but he was a great role player whose defense earned him a spot on the All-ACC Defensive Team.
It's safe to say that without his defense, North Carolina would probably have not won the championship during that season.
Ellington averaged 15.8 points (on .483 percent shooting from the field), 4.9 rebounds, 2.7 assists and .9 steals per game during the 2008-09 season. Best known for his scoring and shooting abilities, especially behind the three-point arc (.417 percent behind the three-point line), Ellington played a crucial role in the team's title run during the 2008-09 season.
He was rewarded for his March Madness tournament performance by being named the NCAA Basketball Tournament Most Outstanding Player.
As a sophomore last year for the North Carolina Tar Heels, Strickland averaged 7.5 points, 3.1 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.2 steals per game. Known for his shooting abilities and above-average defense, Strickland is capable of playing both guard positions, though he will primarily play the shooting guard position and be asked to take on a leadership role for the 2011-12 Tar Heels.
Because of all the talent this team possesses, there probably won't be enough shots to go around for Strickland to average double-digit points per game. However, if he improves his shooting percentage behind the three-point line (.250 percent) and on his shooting average from the free throw line (.686), there is no reason why he shouldn't match his points-per-game total from last season—or even surpass it.
That being said, his main responsibility for the 2011-12 Tar Heels will probably be to defend the best perimeter player on the opposing team. If he does that, he should start the entire season for North Carolina at the shooting guard position.
Manuel and Strickland's careers at North Carolina do not compare in any way to Ellington's career at North Carolina.
Ellington was more of a superstar asked to score a lot of points and be more active on the offensive side of the ball.
Manuel was more of a role player during his time at North Carolina, just like Strickland is now. Manuel was and Strickland will be asked to focus more on the defensive aspects of the game. However, Strickland does possess some offensive skills, while Manuel barely possessed any.
Wayne Ellington: 3
Dexter Strickland: 2
Jackie Manual: 1
McCants was a very prolific scorer during his three years at North Carolina.
During the 2004-05 season, he averaged 16 points (.489 percent shooting from the field), three rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.3 steals per game. He provided the Tar Heels with excellent scoring abilities and decent defensive skills. He was a crucial part of the title run North Carolina put together that season.
For his efforts during the 2004-05 season, he was named to the All-ACC Third Team.
Green was the ultimate role player for the Tar Heels during their 2008-09 championship run. He could do a little bit of everything, but his main role on the team was hitting open jump shots and locking down on defense.
During the 2008-09 season, he averaged 13.1 points, 4.7 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.8 steals and 1.3 blocks per game. His shooting numbers were .471 percent from the field, .418 percent behind the three-point line and .852 percent from the free throw line.
As one of the best all-around players in the entire ACC that year, Green was selected to the All-ACC Third Team for his efforts.
Barnes came into last season as the No. 1-rated recruit, according to ESPNU 100, but started off slowly during his freshman year at North Carolina.
However, he did eventually come around and finished the season with averages of 15.7 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game. His numbers improved vastly during the March Madness tournament, as he averaged 21 points, 8.25 rebounds, two assists and 1.75 steals per game during that stretch.
Barnes was named to All-ACC Second Team for his output during the 2010-11 season.
Barnes enters the 2011-12 season a serious candidate for the National Player of the Year award, as his potential to improve truly has no limits. If he practices his jump shot and learns to attack the rim a little better, he could easily average 20 points per game.
The rest of his numbers should improve as well, as he will have one year of experience under his belt and his teammates will hopefully improve their offensive skills too, leading to a higher number of assists.
Barnes is expected to be one of the best players in the country next season, which could be justified by his performance in the March Madness tournament. If he continues to play the way he did in the second half of last season, he will be nearly unstoppable.
McCants and Green put up fairly similar numbers during the 2004-05 and 2008-09 seasons respectively. Although McCants did score more and play a bigger role on the offensive end than Green did, Green played a bigger role on the defensive side of the ball and contributed more offensively than McCants did defensively.
Harrison Barnes: 3
Danny Green: 2
Rashad McCants: 1
Williams averaged 13.1 points, four rebounds and 1.4 assists per game during the 2004-05 season. His shooting numbers were pretty impressive, too, as he shot .541 percent from the field, .813 percent from the free throw line and .381 percent behind the three-point line.
Williams was very popular throughout the entire season for North Carolina, largely due to his athleticism, hustle and dedication. He was a really good all-around athlete whose main focus centered on defense. His impressive wingspan allowed him to pick up steals and block shots throughout the season. However, he was also good on the offensive side of the ball, as he ran the floor very well, had good passing skills and improved his shooting a lot from the previous years.
Williams did anything he could all throughout the season in an effort to make sure the Tar Heels won every game they played. He was voted into the All-ACC Third Team for his performance during the 2004-05 season.
Thompson was a solid contributor to the 2008-09 North Carolina Tar Heels, compiling 10.6 points, 5.7 rebounds, 0.9 steals and 1.1 blocks per game. He was a good rebounder for the Tar Heels, as his length allowed him to catch a fair amount of balls over the opposition. He also had a decent post game on the offensive end, but his lack of toughness, and probably lack of skill, stopped him from being a superstar for the championship-winning Tar Heels.
Henson was an absolute beast on the defensive end of the floor for the 2010-11 Tar Heels. He put up 10.1 rebounds and 3.2 blocks per game, in addition to 11.7 points points per game. His freakish wingspan allowed him to block a lot of shots and to outrebound many opponents. He was recognized for his defensive efforts by being named the ACC Defensive Player of the Year.
On the offensive end, Henson runs the floor extremely well, thanks to his long strides, and scores a decent amount of points by cutting to open spots near the basket, aided by his quick first step. He also improved his shooting percentage last season in comparison to his freshman year, which is a good sign for the Tar Heels in 2011-12.
His efforts from the 2010-11 season earned him a spot on the All-ACC Second Team.
His ballhandling could use some improvement entering the 2011-12 season, as he did average 2.1 turnovers per game last year. However, it will not be a huge concern if those numbers are to repeat themselves.
His main focus will again be to play the best defense possible.
His rebounding and blocking numbers should increase next season with another year of experience under his belt. On the offensive end, Henson will be expected to score a bit while providing the team with copious amounts of energy.
If he does his job well for the Tar Heels this upcoming season, he may be named an All-American after the season ends.
Williams and Thompson were both considered very good role players for the championship teams they payed for during their time in North Carolina, but Henson is expected to be a superstar next season for the Tar Heels. He has to repeat his performance from last season, and even improve on it, if he wants his team to win the national championship next season.
Williams was arguably a bigger contributor to the 2004-05 Tar Heels than Thompson was to the 2008-09 Tar Heels, as he provided North Carolina with a better all-around game and he contributed more toughness, energy and passion to his team than Thompson did.
John Henson: 3
Jawad Williams: 2
Deon Thompson: 1
May was absolutely outstanding for the 2004-05 Tar Heels, putting up 17.5 points, 10.7 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.2 steals and one block per game. He also amassed a .567 shooting percentage from the field and a .758 shooting percentage from the free throw line.
May was a hard worker for the championship-winning Tar Heels and one the most skilled players in all of college basketball throughout that season. His hands and big body allowed him to catch many rebounds by boxing out his opponents very well. He was also good at anticipating when the rebound was going to come down. He was difficult to push away when he started boxing an opponent out.
On the offensive end, May was an excellent player in the post. He rarely missed a pass thrown to him in the post, and when he received the ball, his footwork, variety of post moves and his soft touch allowed him to score almost at will. He used the backboard well during his time at North Carolina and was also capable of hitting a jump shot when needed.
His outstanding 2004-05 season earned him a spot on the All-ACC First Team and a spot on the Consensus All-American Second Team. In addition, he was named Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA Tournament that year for his performance during the March Madness tournament.
Hansbrough was exceptional for the 2008-09 North Carolina Tar Heels.
For the season, he averaged 20.7 points, 8.1 rebounds, one assist and 1.2 steals per game. In addition, he shot .514 percent from the field, .841 percent from the free throw line and even .391 percent from behind the three-point line.
Hansbrough was arguably the best player in college basketball throughout the 2008-09 season and probably the biggest reason why North Carolina won the national championship. His passion and intensity were unmatched by almost every player in the NCAA.
He put forth 100 percent effort during almost every possession throughout every game, he had amazing footwork and great skills in the post, he used his strength to his advantage, he was one of the best at drawing fouls and getting to the free throw line (and making the free throws once he got there) and he was a solid defender as well.
For his efforts throughout the 2008-09 season, Hansbrough was named to the All-ACC First Team and was a member of the Consensus All-American First Team.
Just like May and Hansbrough during their final years at North Carolina, Zeller was the leading scorer for the Tar Heels at the end of the 2010-11 season. Throughout the season, he averaged 15.7 points (on .547 percent shooting from the field), 7.2 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game.
Zeller possesses a lot of skill and has great mobility, especially for a man his size—7'0", 250 pounds. He has a nice post game and puts forth a solid effort throughout every game. He runs the floor very well, has a nice shooting touch and plays solid defense.
If North Carolina is to win it all in 2012, Zeller will have to play as well as he did during the 2010-11 season.
He will be called upon to score some points, rebound the ball at a decent pace and disrupt shots on the defensive end. He has been very consistent during his time at North Carolina, so handling these responsibilities should not be a problem. If he could bulk up a bit more by the start of next season, it would help him score easier in the paint and to compile a little bit more rebounds throughout the season.
It would be very hard to argue against my opinion that the center position is the most talented position North Carolina featured during their two championship runs combined with next year's championship-potential team.
May and Hansbrough were arguably the best players on the championship teams they were part of, and Zeller has a good chance of being considered the best player on next year's North Carolina team.
That being said, it will be hard for him to match the seasons May and Hansbrough had during their championship runs, simply because those two players were just that good.
In order to become as good as they were, he will have to find a way to develop a better post game, rebound the ball more and defend his opponents a little better than he does. It's not that he's necessarily bad at any of those things, it's just that May and Hansbrough were better.
Hansbrough contributed a little bit more to North Carolina in 2008-09 than May did in 2004-05; he averaged more points per game and provided more passion and intensity.
Tyler Hansbrough: 3
Sean May: 2
Tyler Zeller: 1
Williams played both forward positions for the Tar Heels during the 2004-05 season, averaging 11.3 points, 6.6 rebounds and 1.1 steals per game. His shooting numbers were really impressive during his one season at Chapel Hill, as he shot .506 percent from the field, .847 percent from the free throw line and .432 percent from behind the three-point arc.
Williams possessed great versatility and athleticism, showcasing his great shooting stroke on a consistent basis, displaying good passing and ballhandling skills, utilizing a few good post moves and playing above-average defense.
In addition, he always worked hard, put forth a lot of effort into every possession, played with passion and desire and he had a very high basketball I.Q., which helped the Tar Heels win the national championship that year.
Davis averaged 6.7 points, on .518 percent shooting from the field, 6.6 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game during the 2008-09 season for North Carolina.
Coming off the bench, Davis' long wingspan allowed him to grab a good amount of rebounds and block a lot of shots. Beyond his wingspan, though, he had very good defensive fundamentals and put forth good effort on the defensive side of the ball.
On the offensive side of the ball, Davis' athleticism and high basketball I.Q. allowed him to showcase some decent moves in the post, although his perimeter game was almost nonexistent.
McAdoo will be entering his freshman year at North Carolina and is expected to log some key minutes off the bench for the championship-hopeful Tar Heels. He will most likely be backing up both John Henson and Tyler Zeller at the power forward and center positions.
McAdoo has great coordination and mobility, and also a high basketball I.Q. He possesses the ability to explode and finish towards the rim, but also has a good perimeter game to compliment his post game. He is a good rebounder and will contribute on the defensive end with some steals and blocks.
In general, he is a good all-around player with a lot of upside.
During the 2011-12 season, McAdoo should average somewhere around eight points and six rebounds per game, while chipping in on the defensive end with some blocks and steals.
Williams was a big reason why the Tar Heels won the national championship in 2004-05, and McAdoo is not expected to match his output during this upcoming season. Regardless of whether Davis was expected to match his output or not in 2008-09, his numbers or production on the floor did not compare to Williams' 2004-05 season.
McAdoo is expected to put up similar numbers next season to what Davis put up in 2008-09, but he could easily put up slightly better numbers if given the opportunity and if he takes advantage of that given opportunity.
Marvin Williams: 3
James McAdoo: 2
Ed Davis: 1
2004-05: Melvin Scott and David Noel and Quentin Thomas
2008-09: Tyler Zeller, Bobby Frasor and Larry Drew II
2011-12: Leslie McDonald, Reggie Bullock and P.J. Hairston
Scott, Noel and Thomas
Scott put up 5.1 points, 1.4 rebounds and 1.1 assists during the 2004-05 season at North Carolina. Scott played both guard positions for the Tar Heels and was a three-point specialist off the bench.
Noel averaged 3.9 points, on .548 shooting from the field, 2.6 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 0.9 steals. He possessed great strength, a nice leaping ability, worked very hard and had a very high basketball I..Q. during his time at North Carolina. He provided the team with solid offense and above-average defense.
Thomas averaged 0.8 points, 1.3 assists and 1.3 turnovers per game during the 2004-05 season. He didn't play much, but he did provide the Tar Heels with some assists and a decent shooting percentage.
Zeller, Frasor and Drew II
Zeller showed the potential he possessed within the first two games of the 2008-09 season when he replaced an injured Tyler Hansbrough in the starting lineup. He played very well in that stretch, but got hurt in the second game and missed a good portion of the season.
Although he didn't play too much in his return, he provided the Tar Heels with good energy and solid skills off the bench, mainly on the offensive side of the ball. He averaged 3.1 points and two rebounds for the season with North Carolina.
Frasor averaged 2.6 points, two rebounds and 1.4 assists. A very solid veteran and contributor off the bench, Frasor was a very good ballhander, passer and aggressive defender during his senior year at Chapel Hill.
Drew II averaged 1.4 points, 1.1 rebounds and 1.9 assists. Although he barely saw any action, he put up a good number of assists and allowed Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington to take well deserved breaks during the time he was on the floor.
McDonald, Bullock and Hairston
McDonald averaged seven points and 2.1 rebounds, shooting .381 percent from behind the three-point line during the 2010-11 season for the Tar Heels. During the 2011-12 season, McDonald is expected to provide the Tar Heels with some experience at both guard positions, a very good three-point stroke and above-average defense.
Bullock averaged 6.1 points and 2.8 rebounds for the 2010-11 Tar Heels. Although an injury ended his season early, he is expected to come back healthy for the upcoming season and provide North Carolina with athleticism and a very solid three-point stroke.
Hairston is entering his freshman season at North Carolina with a lot of potential. Unfortunately, he will not see the amount of action that he should due to the depth the team possesses. However, he is expected to complete the deadly trio of three-point shooters coming off the Tar Heels bench, alongside McDonald and Bullock.
McDonald, Bullock and Hairston are going to be very important pieces in the puzzle for the 2011-12 North Carolina Tar Heels. Each of their three-point strokes and output on defense will allow the Tar Heels to rest their starters for longer, depending how good they perform. In addition, each of them has the potential to replace Strickland in the starting lineup, as his spot is not guaranteed.
Scott, Noel and Thomas probably contributed a bit more to the 2004-05 Tar Heels than Zeller, Frasor and Drew II did in 2008-09. The former combined to play more minutes than the latter and also put in more points and assists throughout the season.
2011-12: McDonald, Bullock and Hairston: 3
2004-05: Scott, Noel and Thomas: 2
2008-09: Zeller, Frasor and Drew II: 1
2011-12 North Carolina Tar Heels: 16
2008-09 North Carolina Tar Heels: 14
2004-05 North Carolina Tar Heels: 12
Both the 2004-05 Tar Heels and the 2008-09 Tar Heels possessed three superstars on their teams.
The 2004-05 Tar Heels had Sean May, Raymond Felton and Rashad McCants, all who were voted All-Americans.
Ty Lawson, Tyler Hansbrough and Wayne Ellington were the three superstars for the 2008-09 Tar Heels. Two of them were consensus All-Americans—Hansbrough for the first team and Lawson for the second team.
In addition, each of these two teams possessed a "glue guy" who did anything and everything in his power to make sure his team won the basketball game.
For the 2004-05 Tar Heels, that man was Jawad Williams. And for the 2008-09 Tar Heels, that man was Danny Green.
Finally, both of these teams possessed a good amount of depth, which is necessary for any team competing for a national championship, as it provides an opportunity to rest its star players and keep their legs and bodies as fresh as possible all season long.
Marvin Williams, Jackie Manuel, Melvin Scott and David Noel were some of the key players who provided the 2004-05 Tar Heels with depth, while Deon Thompson, Ed Davis, Bobby Frasor and Larry Drew II provided the 2008-09 Tar Heels with a solid amount depth.
The comparisons are eerily similar in terms of their rosters, not to mention the fact their records were almost identical (2004-05 Tar Heels went 33-4 while the 2008-09 Tar Heels went 34-4) and that their point differentials per game were very close to one another as well (2004-05 North Carolina's point differential per game was 17.7 while 2008-09 North Carolina's point differential per game was 17.8).
In addition, both teams were ranked very high entering the season by both the AP Top 25 Poll and ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll. The 2004-05 Tar Heels entered their season ranked fourth in the AP poll and third in the coaches poll, while the 2008-09 Tar Heels entered their season unanimously ranked first.
So how do the 2011-12 North Carolina Tar Heels compare to both of these team?
For starters, this team possesses three superstars in Harrison Barnes, Tyler Zeller and John Henson, who all have a legitimate shot at being named consensus All-Americans.
Kendall Marshall could end up being the "glue guy" for the 2011-12 Tar Heels, although he also has a chance of being named an All-American—or at least a chance to be part of the Associated Press' Honorable Mention list.
As far as depth is concerned, the 2011-12 Tar Heels will count on Dexter Strickland, Leslie McDonald, Reggie Bullock, P.J. Hairston and James McAdoo. All five of these men are more than capable of contributing to this team, but if any of them are unable to perform well, Roy Williams will still have Justin Watts, Desmond Hubert and Jackson Simmons sitting at the end of the bench, ready to enter when called upon.
Just like the two former North Carolina squads, expect the latter squad to win anywhere between 32 and 35 games and lose anywhere between two and five games. Also, just like the two previous squads that won the national championship for the Tar Heels, the 2011-12 North Carolina squad easily has the potential to outscore their opponents by 16 to 20 points per game.
Finally, the 2011-12 North Carolina Tar Heels are expected to be ranked very high before the season even begins. Just like the 2008-09 Tar Heels, they have a very legitimate chance to be unanimously voted first in both the AP and coaches polls. (However, Kentucky might ruin that prestigious honor for North Carolina.)
In conclusion, the similarities between all three of these teams are very scary—of course, no one knows how the 2011-12 Tar Heels will perform until the season begins.
With that being said, all North Carolina fans have a lot to look forward to over the next upcoming months, as the potential this team possesses is downright freaky and the similarities between this squad and the 2004-05 & 2008-09 squads could only increase our hope for a national championship.