Why the North Carolina Tar Heels Will Win the 2011 Las Vegas Invitational
When the North Carolina Tar Heels last played in Paradise, Nevada's Orleans Arena, they won two games to come away with the 2007 Las Vegas Invitational Championship.
In the world of collegiate basketball, nothing has been quite as consistent as North Carolina's success under head coach Roy Williams.
The Tar Heels play their first game of the 2011 Las Vegas Invitational against Mississippi Valley State on November 20 at home in Chapel Hill, but before UNC embarks on their road to Las Vegas, here are five reasons why North Carolina will win the quasi round-robin tournament.
No. 5: Tar Heels Have Succeeded in Las Vegas Before
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When the Tar Heels left North Carolina to play in the 2007 Las Vegas Invitational, they came away with four easy wins over Iona, South Carolina State, Old Dominion and Brigham Young.
Their biggest challenge during the 2007 event was BYU, as North Carolina defeated the Cougars by only 10 points. Junior center Tyler Hansbrough played well enough to be named Invitational MVP and the Tar Heels continued on, flirting with the No. 1 ranking for the rest of the 2007-2008 basketball season.
History has a way of repeating itself, so when UNC goes to Nevada later this month, expect them to come back to North Carolina with a Las Vegas Invitational Championship.
No. 4: Head Coach Roy Williams
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Tar Heels head coach Roy Williams might be the best of the best.
Since rejoining North Carolina as a head coach in 2003, 10 days after he coached Kansas in the 2003 NCAA Championship game, Williams has experienced consistent success with his UNC teams.
The venerable Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame inductee has won two NCAA Division I Championships (2005, 2009), has been to the Final Four seven times (three with the Tar Heels) and was named AP Coach of the Year while at UNC in 2006.
With a career record of 643-163, Williams is simply one of the best coaches in college basketball history.
Coaches like Williams are those who tend to coach their teams to victory time and time again.
According to Williams, the Tar Heels choose which tournaments to play in "based on where I like to go."
Something tells me his players will appreciate his judgment in choosing to play an early-season tournament in Las Vegas.
No. 3: Tradition of Strong Seniors, 2011 Squad Led by Tyler Zeller
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An experienced All-Star caliber veteran: over the past 10 years, the North Carolina Tar Heels have been fortunate to have had a series of strong team leaders.
When current 7'0'' senior Tyler Zeller was a freshman, he had the privilege of playing NCAA basketball on the same team as then-senior forward Tyler Hansbrough.
Hansbrough, now on the Indiana Pacers who may or may not play basketball this season, was a standout at North Carolina. He was a John Wooden Award winner, an AP and Naismith College Player of the Year and a four-time All-American (three first-team).
Zeller also played with standout guard Ty Lawson, now of the Denver Nuggets and Marcus Ginyard. Before them, it was Jawad Williams (Cleveland Cavaliers).
The Tar Heels have a history of strong senior leaders, and 2011-12's senior to watch is Tyler Zeller.
He averaged 15.7 points per game last season with 7.2 rebounds per contest.
Expect big things from the big man.
No. 2: Las Vegas Invitational Opponents Do Not Pose a Serious Challenge
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Sure, if UNC ends up losing or somehow finding themselves in overtime during the Las Vegas Invitational, I'll be glad to eat crow.
Until then, however, UNC will win the Las Vegas Invitational because their opponents are simply not strong teams. Note that North Carolina's Game 4 opponent will be decided during the Invitational.
Game 1, Mississippi Valley State
MVSU is coming off a two game losing streak, having lost 80-67 against Notre Dame during their season opener and losing 80-70 to DePaul. Expect North Carolina to easily win Game 1.
Game 2, Tennessee State University
The Tigers earned an impressive 90-52 exhibition victory on November 1, but when the real basketball season started, TSU dropped two games to Saint Louis and Western Kentucky. After picking up an easy win against Fisk on Wednesday, TSU will meet South Carolina in Game 1 of the Las Vegas Invitational before taking on UNC in Game 2. Playing in Chapel Hill, this should be no problem for the Tar Heels.
Game 3, South Carolina
The scene shifts to Nevada for Game 3 as UNC takes on South Carolina in a slight intrastate rivalry. USC is 1-1 on the season, having defeated Western Carolina by 25 in their opener, but losing on the road to Elon after leaving the friendly confines of Colonial Life Arena. This matchup should certainly be more intriguing than the first two, but the Tar Heels will still pull out a win against the Gamecocks.
Game 4, Southern California
This game is dependent on results from earlier in this brief tournament. If North Carolina ends up playing their second USC school, the Tar Heels will meet a team playing at the .500 mark after coming off of sanctions related to NCAA bylaw violations committed by former Trojans O.J. Mayo and coach Tim Floyd. Expect USC to put up a decent fight, but still fall to the overpowering UNC squad.
Game 4, UNLV
If UNC ends up facing the Runnin' Rebels of UNLV, they will face the only opponent who, like the Tar Heels, has won the first two games of their regular season. UNLV also holds home field advantage: they will not play a game outside of the Las Vegas area until November 30, when they travel to UC Santa Barbara. Expect Dave Rice's squad to give UNC a good game, though they too will succumb to UNC's superior play in the end.
No. 1: North Carolina Tar Heels Are the Best Basketball Team in the Nation
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From Zeller to Henson, Barnes and beyond, the North Carolina Tar Heels are simply the best team in NCAA Division I basketball and their No. 1 ranking confirms that theory.
After losing senior forward Justin Knox and senior guards Daniel Bolick and Van Hatchell, North Carolina more than made up for the loss by welcoming freshmen James McAdoo (ESPN grade 98), P.J. Hairston (97), Desmond Hubert (90), Jackson Simmons (89) and Stilman White (78).
With sophomore Luke Davis electing to redshirt, the Tar Heels still have more than enough talent on the team to ensure they will remain a dominant force through the 2011-12 season.
Entering the Las Vegas invitational with an expected 2-0 seasonal record, the Tar Heels should have little problem beating their opponents to claim their second Las Vegas Invitational Championship in as many trips to Paradise.