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Thursday, December 11, 2008

What if Carolina runs the table?

Posted by on Thu, Dec 11, 2008 at 3:35 PM

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After a 35-point drubbing of Michigan State and a 15-point slaughtering of Notre Dame's potential Big East winner, Roy Williams has Carolina fans asking, "What if?"

The Heels (8-0) have a long way to go before being crowned any sort of champion. The only thing they have won so far other than the Maui Invitational is the most-hyped award.

The talk surrounding UNC should strike a specific memory for the Tar Heels.

Remember Illinois of 2004? Remember their beat down of Chris Paul and Wake Forest Dec. 1, 2004?

Yeah, they won by 18 points and made then number one Wake Forest -- a team that beat the Heels that season -- look like Forest Tech.

The entire season revolved around whether or not Illinois would go undefeated and whether or not anyone could upset them.

Then a magical Ohio State three pointer ended the talk of an undefeated season. Then Illinois nearly lost to Arizona in a Elite Eight game for the ages. Who doesn't remember Powell missing a three and following his own shot for a dunk?

Although the Tar Heels have shown the capability of having a spectacularly special season, there aren't and never will be any gimmies in college basketball.

So, what if Carolina goes undefeated in the regular season?

Nearly every sports analyst will dismiss the possibilities of this simply because the odds are close to zero.  Seven teams have run the table in college basketball and won the NCAA championship:  San Francisco in '56, UNC-Chapel Hill in '57, UCLA four times and Indiana in '76.

The 1957 Tar Heels and the 1976 Hoosiers played the most games of the seven, winning 32 games.  In today's basketball world, a team would have to win approximately six or seven more games than in the past as the champions normally play 38 games or so.  Similar to football, the added depth and resources around the country and the increase in basketball popularity has created extreme parity in the sport, especially considering many of the best players jump to the NBA.

Do you think Duke would have lost many games if Kobe Bryant laced up for Coach K?

Illinois and Memphis both have come close in the last decade to running the table, however with just a little luck a team like Carolina even in this day and age has the opportunity to run the table.

Just consider last season. Carolina lost two games during the course of the regular season -- but they easily could have lost five or six. Ellington's three at Clemson and Hansbrough's baseline shot against Virginia Tech won games that would have gone either way.

Certainly, Carolina has a wealth of more experience now. However, UNC faces Wake Forest once on the road this season (2004 anyone?). UNC also plays Duke and Miami twice, of which both are nationally ranked teams.

The Heels travel to College Park, Blacksburg and Raleigh, places where Carolina has lost recently in the last few seasons.

There is no doubt that Carolina improved dramatically this season with the development of players like Deon Thompson, Ty Lawson and Danny Green and the upgrades at the point guard position with Bobby Frasor back and Larry Drew playing better than Quentin Thomas ever did. Carolina at most should lose a few games, barring a healthy team. That's a big if.

I think the Heels must lose in the regular season to have a shot at the title.

I know, that makes zero sense.  Why should a team have to lose in order to win six in a row come March?

It's simple; teams learn more from losses than victories, Dean Smith said in "The Carolina Way."  Sure, this team has losses to reflect on -- notably the Georgetown and Kansas games -- but none of those will be fresh on their minds after a long season.

I tend to trust Dean. He has 879 told-you-sos.

UNC's loss to Georgia Tech in the 2005 ACC tournament propelled that team to the title. It re-motivated them to play harder, smarter and faster -- the three ingredients to Roy Williams' system.

An upset to an inferior team might not be a great way to lose, but UNC fans should wish for a painful loss to a good team that will keep the team hungry in March.

Definitely not Duke though.

If Carolina manages to run the table and enters the tournament as the biggest favorite to win the title in X years, I fully expect them to lose.

It would be the perfect sports story. Just like the Patriots losing to the Giants and countless other upsets. You can't count out baby-faced Eli Manning in a one-shot deal.  Or Stephen Curry.

No team of 20 something year olds can manage the pressure without any lessons or fear from defeat fresh on their minds. Heck, no NBA team could handle that.

So, to answer the question of what if UNC runs the table, I would humbly say that the Heels' chances of cutting down the nets in Detroit would be severely harmed.

Disagree? let me know about it.

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