The North Carolina Tar Heels have a one of the most storied traditions in all of college basketball. Even with their high standards, what they have accomplished over the last few seasons ranks among the best runs in school history. The Tar Heels have played in back to back National Title games, and they are a Kris Jenkinsbuzzer-beaterr away from being the two-time defending champions. It can be difficult for players to leave lasting mark on such a tradition rich program, but UNC’s senior class has managed to do just that. Joel Berry II, Kenny Williams and Theo Pinson have all played integral parts to North Carolina’s recent run of success. Coach Roy Willliams’ team had some struggles early in ACC play this season, but seem to have righted the ship in the last few weeks.
North Carolina Tar Heels Look to extend March Success
The North Carolina Tar Heels scuffled slightly to begin ACC play. Everyone knows how good the conference is in basketball, and those slip ups can occur even for the best teams. However, UNC sat at 5-5 in league play and had lost three straight after an 82-78 loss in Clemson. The Tarheel defense was struggling and some questioned the heart and toughness of this team. Williams’ team did not back down though, and have caught fire in the two weeks since.
After a dominant win over a bad Pitt team, North Carolina then won back to back games over instate rivals Duke and N.C. State. A convincing 83-66 win over Notre Dame earlier this week means the Tar Heels have now won four in a row and are playing some of their best basketball as March approaches. The ACC allows for no breaks in the schedule, and North Carolina will now go on the road for three of their next four.
Joel Berry II has had a career to remember in Chapel Hill. It takes a lot to go down as an all-time great at a program like North Carolina, but Berry has left his mark. He has 1673 points, 413 assists, and 148 steals in his career. He was named to the All-Tournament team for each of the last two seasons and was the MOP of the Final Four a year ago. Berry has raised his game to another level this season, averaging 17.5 points per game. He is the unquestioned leader of this team. Berry has been forced to carry an even heavier load lately. An injury to Seventh Woods and the suspension of Jalek Felton have hampered the team’s back court depth. Guard play and experience can be determining factors once the tournament rolls around, and the Tar Heels are in good hands with Berry running the show.
It is inevitable that with a run of success like UNC has enjoyed lately, there will eventually be a need to replace a lot of talent. North Carolina has had a long list of big men stars for them over the years. This list includes Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks, who both graduated from last year’s team. The Tar Heels also lost 2017 ACC Player of the Year Justin Jackson from their title winning squad. Junior Luke Maye has raised his level of play this year after being a role player last season. He leads the team with 18.3 points and 10.4 rebounds per game. Senior Kenny Williams has also stepped up, pumping in 11.6 points a night with 41% shooting from beyond the arc. Transfer Cameron Johnson has begun to find his place on the team as well. His 13.1 points per rank just behind Maye and Berry.
North Carolina’s offensive balance makes them tough to defend. They have four players averaging double figures, and senior Theo Pinson chips in nine points a night. Pinson is also the team’s best defender and most athletic player. Where the Tar Heels have seen the biggest drop off is in the paint. Freshman post players Sterling Manley and Garrison Brooks are still developing. North Carolina basketball has long been known for two things: their fast paced high scoring offense and the ability to dominate the glass. The Tar Heels have had little trouble scoring in bunches this season. However, they do not have the advantage they are used to on the boards. The freshman big men’s development may determine how far this team can go in March.
Three for Four
With the regular season winding down, everyone’s focus now turns to March Madness. The Virginia Cavaliers are currently ranked number one in the nation and will likely win the ACC title. Even with that goal seemingly out of reach, the NCAA tournament allows for bigger goals to be attained. The North Carolina Tar Heels have gotten hot at the right time. They will now look to continue their string of March Madness success. If they can stay hot and Joel Berry can continue leading them, they may be able to make it to their third consecutive Final Four. Even for a program with UNC’s history, that would be a remarkable feat. This senior class has already elevated this program back to its elite status with two Championship game appearances and one title. Making a third Final Four trip would cement their legacies on Chapel Hill.