Could this be a year that a college basketball team goes undefeated? If a team is going to do it in these modern times, then the best chance may be with North Carolina this season.
No team has gone undefeated since the 1976 Indiana Hoosier's, but North Carolina has a legitimate shot to do so. Is it likely? No. Is it possible? Without a doubt.
The Heels became overwhelming this season when in June, Danny Green, Wayne Ellington, and Ty Lawson announced their return to Chapel Hill. They come back to a team that has added three McDonald's All-American's and returning National Player of the Year center Tyler Hansbrough.
Hansbrough is the first returning National Player of the Year since Shaquille O'Neal.
The trio each threw their names in the NBA hat, but in the end they were only "testing the water." Nonetheless, May was a stressful month for Hall of Fame coach Roy Williams.
"I think the only time that I would say it was stressful was probably May," said Williams. "May has always been my favorite month of the year. We're in exams the first week, so school is basically over. Camp hasn't started. It's a dead period in recruiting. There's not a whole lot of things going on. I've really enjoyed May much more (in the past) than I did this past year with the three guys 'testing the waters."
The Tar Heels had a very successful season last year. They were 36-3 and won their second straight ACC title. They also got over the hump and made it to the Final Four.
But as soon as the three announced their return, North Carolina became the prohibitive favorites and questions about an undefeated season soon arose.
While the word undefeated is not a word that Williams wants to hear, all of us spectators can sit back and wonder.
"I have no dream---none---of going undefeated. That's not even a blip on the radar," said Williams. "I mean, I couldn't care less. I'll take a great year and a great run and playing it every single day and enjoying my life. Nobody remembers, in 1988 Kansas won a national championship. They had 11 losses. They were printing NIT tickets, so I'd say those guys enjoyed that year quite a bit."
With that said, it's possible. This is a very deep and experienced team. They play a unique style that most teams don't have the time to prepare for.
Lawson is the engine that runs North Carolina's car. The 5'11" junior is the fastest player with the ball in his hands in the country. He breaks off of makes and misses, but still maintains control of the ball and his body. His 2.5 assist-to-turnover ratio and his ever improving jump-shot have NBA executives salivating.
If the Heels are going to go undefeated, they unquestionably must improve in two areas: Outside shooting and all-around defense.
UNC shot .372 percent from three-point range last season. Good, not great. Ellington led the way with 78 threes, shooting them at a 40 percent clip. Green is a steady three- point shooter and Lawson should continue to improve. If senior guard Bobby Frasor can stay healthy, he may be able to regain a consistent stroke from deep. Also, Will Graves will probably get a few more minutes and is a deadly shooter.
Defense is another story. Anyone who watched North Carolina two years ago saw a poor defensive team. A team that was unable to get stops when needed. Last year, they were much improved, but still need to take another step forward.
Much has been made about the Heel's defense, but it is not as bad as it seems. A typical UNC game includes a lot of possessions. The more possessions a team has, the more points they are going to score.
Green and senior Marcus Ginyard are the two best defenders on the team. Ginyard is a very good on-the-ball defender and Green has very active hands and blocks a lot of shots. Frasor plays the passing lanes very well, which translates into transition points and easy baskets.
Hansbrough is no slouch either. He may not block a lot of shots, but plays position defense that allows him to hit the boards and stay out of foul trouble. Freshman Ed Davis and Tyler Zeller may make their biggest impact on this team in the shot blocking department.
Health is also a concern, but UNC is deep enough to survive a few minor injuries. Lawson and Frasor are coming back off of injury plagued seasons. Both Ginyard and seldom used forward Mike Copeland will be out until at least the middle of December.
The Heels come into this season with a deadly combination of freakish talent, depth, and experience. They are hungry to build upon last season. While undefeated is a lofty idea, it probably won't happen. In today's landscape of parity, it is nearly impossible to go through a season unscathed. While the Heels will tell you to a man that their goal is to win a championship, not go undefeated, they have a fighters shot at doing so.