Best Foot Forward

By: Kenneth Harrison Jr. news services

Going in to conference tournaments, I have one provocative question.

Is North Carolina a legit national title contender? That might seem like a silly question. The No. 3 Tar Heels (26-5) just beat their archrival Duke for the second time this season. They finished second in the ACC.

“It was a big-time win. It was ugly as it could be,” Coach Roy Williams told reporters. “The last six minutes, I think we made no field goals. Cam (Johnson) stepped up to the free-throw line and made two big free throws. Garrison (Brooks) stepped up and had really struggled, but made two big free throws. Cody (White) was a mess there for a while. It was hard for people to handle.”

You might be wondering why I would even question that given the outcome of this season. In the era of the one and done players, UNC rarely gets elite talent. That’s a head scratcher for a blue blood program like them.

We see other top programs like Duke, Kentucky and Kansas get top recruiting classes. North Carolina had the 14th ranked 2018 recruiting classes. I think their lack of top-flight talent is their Achilles hill.

That has been shown in most of their losses. In the Las Vegas Invitational, they lost to Texas 92 – 89. The Longhorns had the 8th ranked recruiting class.

Two games later they lost convincingly (84-67) at No. 10 Michigan. The Wolverines 2018 recruiting class was ranked 12th.

The Tar Heels also lost to No. 4 Kentucky (80-72) in the CBS Sports Classic. The Wildcats had the second ranked recruiting class. This same Kentucky team was demolished by 34 points against Duke.

I think the Blue Devils are a totally different team with Zion Williamson on the court. UNC has dodged a bullet by not having to play against him for more than 33 seconds in both meetings. I think the outcome of those games would have been different if he played.

The other two loses were at home against Louisville and No. 2 Virginia.

This is a rare season where there are several teams competing for the national championship. Duke was the clear-cut favorite prior to the injury to Zion. He still has not returned so I’m going to assume he will not play again for the rest of the season. Coach K said he practiced before the season finale but he did not suit up.

UNC will get a top seed in the NCAA tournament. That will make their path to the Final Four easier. They are not the most talented team but they do have experience. The leading scorer is senior guard Cameron Johnson with 16.8 points per game.

Senior forward Luke Maye averages 14.6 ppg. They also have some young talent with freshman guard Coby White who contributes 16 ppg and 4 assists per game.

I think the experience will help, as they get deeper in the tournament. They have shown that they can get overwhelmed against top competition but anything can happen during March Madness.