Seton Hall is a Sleeper in the Big East

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By Ronak Patel

Thursday, November 5, 2009

North Carolina Tar Heels
Last Season: 34-4 (13-3)
Key Losses: Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington, Danny Green, Bobby Frasor
Head Coach: Roy Williams

Projected Starting Lineup:
PG: Larry Drew II 6-2 So.
SG: Marcus Ginyard 6-5 Sr.
SF: John Henson 6-10 Fr.
PF: Ed Davis 6-10 So.
C: Deon Thompson 6-9 Sr.
Key Reserves: Dexter Strickland 6-3 Fr. PG, Tyler Zeller 7-0 So. C, Leslie McDonald 6-4 Fr. SG, David Wear 6-10 Fr. PF, Travis Wear 6-10 Fr. PF, Will Graves 6-6 Jr. SF

The North Carolina Tar Heels won their fifth National Championship last season. However, the run for the title did not come without challenges. Star Tyler Hansbrough was hampered with shin splints and an ankle injury and missed three of North Carolina's first six games. There were even doubts heading into the NCAA tournament due to an injury to Ty Lawson's toe. Lawson sat out the ACC tournament that saw the Tar Heels get eliminated by Florida State. Lawson also missed the first round NCAA tournament game against No. 16 seed Radford. However, he would come back and play hero against No. 8 seed LSU in the second round. North Carolina was trailing midway through the second half, but Lawson scored 21 of his 23 points in the second half and the Tar Heels went on to win, 84-70. After that game, North Carolina would not be challenged en route to its National Championship. In fact, the Tar Heels defeated every opponent in the NCAA tournament by at least 12 points. In the National Championship game against Michigan State, North Carolina jumped out to a 55-34 lead at halftime. The 55 points scored was a first half record and the 21-point lead was also a record in the history of NCAA tournament National Championship games. Lawson also set a championship game record with eight steals.

As with most teams coming off a National Championship, North Carolina lost a wealth of talent and experience from last year's club. The most recognizable loss was Hansbrough (20.7 ppg, 8.1 rpg), a four time first team All-American and a National Player of the Year. Over time, he will be known as one of the best college basketball players of all time. Last year, he became the all-time leading scorer in ACC history. He was also the unquestioned leader of North Carolina for all four years at Chapel Hill. Hansbrough was selected 13th overall in the NBA Draft by the Indiana Pacers. Also lost is Lawson (16.6 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 6.6 apg, 2.1 spg). He won the ACC Player of the Year award last year and was a consensus second team All-American. Lawson was arguably the best point guard in the nation last year. He had an impressive 3.5/1 assist-to-turnover ratio and was perhaps the most important player to his team. His best asset was his speed that realistically will not replaceable for North Carolina. Lawson was selected 18th overall in the NBA Draft to the Minnesota Timberwolves, and had his rights were traded to the Denver Nuggets. North Carolina lost a third first round NBA Draft pick in Wayne Ellington (15.8 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 2.9 apg). Ellington was known as a terrific shooter, nailing 42 percent of his 3-pointers last year. He was terrific in the NCAA tournament, averaging 19.2 points and hitting 14-of-27 3-point attempts. His terrific play earned him the tournament's Most Outstanding Player award. North Carolina lost a fourth player to the NBA draft in Danny Green (13.1 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 2.7 apg). Green was selected in the second round, 46th overall, to the Phoenix Suns and was traded to the Cleveland Cavilers. Green was maybe the most versatile player on North Carolina. Like Ellington, Green was also a terrific shooter, making 42 percent from 3-point territory. The last piece lost from last year's team was Bobby Frasor (2.6 ppg, 2.0 rpg).

Even with all of the losses, North Carolina is still one of the best teams in the country for a reason. One of those reasons is the tremendous freshman class head coach Roy Williams has signed. The top rated North Carolina recruit is power forward John Henson. ranks Henson the top ranked incoming power forward and the fourth ranked incoming recruit overall. Standing at a lanky 6-foot-10, Henson is a tremendous athlete and is skilled facing the basket. Because of Henson's lack of strength but terrific athleticism and versatility, he will start his college career as a small forward. Dexter Strickland is a 6-foot-3 combo guard with terrific ball-handling skills and a great scoring mentality. He will serve as UNC's backup point guard. Leslie McDonald is rated by as the 16th best incoming shooting guard. McDonald doesn't quite have the star potential of Henson and Strickland, but he will see time off the bench right away. Finally, North Carolina brings in a pair of twin power forwards. David and Travis Wear will add depth and size. Both are highly skilled big men with a terrific work ethic who can play inside and outside.

North Carolina also has plenty of good players coming back. Its most veteran player returning is senior Marcus Ginyard (1.3 ppg, 2.7 rpg). This is Ginyard's fifth year in Chapel Hill. He was granted a medical redshirt because he was injured for almost all of last season. Ginyard is a wing player and is North Carolina's best defender. Two years ago, he was on the ACC's All-Defensive first team. He is not a big time scorer (6.9 ppg as a junior) but should be a more significant part of the Tar Heels' offense this year.

Deon Thompson (10.6 ppg, 5.7 rpg) is the leading returning scorer for the Tar Heels. Thompson is a very skilled big man with good touch on turn-around jump shots. However, he has been extremely inconsistent. Last year, Thompson started off the year on fire, recording double-doubles in North Carolina's first 12 games, but just 10 times in the final 26 games. He will be one of the go-to guys, so expect Thompson to put up big scoring numbers. For North Carolina to be really good this year, he will have to be a more impactful rebounder.

The player who will be in the spotlight for the Heels is Ed Davis (6.7 ppg, 6.6 rpg). Davis was and still is one of the hottest NBA prospects in the country. Many draft analysts had Davis as one of the top five prospects for the Draft this past June. Next year, he could be drafted in the top three. Davis is a big time talent. He is North Carolina's best interior defender and is a terrific rebounder. He averaged one rebound every 2.8 minutes played as a freshman last season. Davis played just 14 minutes in the National Championship game, but led North Carolina with eight rebounds. Offensively, Davis is good around the rim and has an effective left-handed hook shot. He does not have much range but he stays within himself and does not really attempt shots past 12 feet. Many are expecting Davis to average a double-double this season. He should be one of the better big men in the ACC.

For every Roy Williams basketball team, the most important player is the point guard. Williams loves to push the tempo and play as fast as possible. In his most successful years, Williams has had terrific point guards like Jacque Vaughn, Kirk Hinrich, Raymond Felton and Ty Lawson. The point guard is the most important position to guide Williams' offense. This year, that point guard is Larry Drew II (1.4 ppg, 1.9 apg). Drew struggled immensely on offense last year. He shot just 35 percent from the field, 23 percent from 3-point territory and 41 percent from the free throw line. Drew must show vast improvement from last year. Defensively, Drew is very good because he has good quickness and has long arms. If he is not effective this season, the Tar Heels could have a disappointing season.

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