First of all, congratulations to the 2007 Tar Heels for a great season. UNC tied for first place in the ACC, won the ACC Tournament and 31 games before ending up six minutes from the Final Four only to fall in overtime at the East Regional Final. UNC also extended their win streak over Duke to three which is worth almost as much as the ACC title itself.
In Tar Heel Nation the expectations are high. There are few basketball programs in the country which begin the season with not only the goal of winning the national championship but the means of making it happen. This team was no different since it obviously had the talent and the coaching to get to the first Monday in April even if it ended up lacking the experience and poise for a six game winning streak to end the season. Ultimately that is what it came down to, that intangible mix which gives you that extra lift to handle certain situations. This was a young team and I think many Tar Heel fans, myself included, thought the prevalence of youth in college basketball would, to some extent, negate the youth of this team. As it turns out having an experienced core of players still proves to be a crucial element. This, more than anything, is why this team was maddening to watch as they were entertaining. The host of frustrating losses against Virginia Tech twice, NC State, Maryland, and Georgia Tech were uneasy in many respects and seemed indicative of a lack of focus, effort and toughness.
That being said, I also feel this team grew way up beginning with “The Foul” at the end of the Duke game and through the ACC Tournament. This team toughed it out versus NC State to win the first Tar Heel ACC title in nine years. In the NCAA second round against Michigan State UNC out toughed a well coached and tough team in their own right. The Sweet Sixteen game versus USC was the tale of two halves with UNC weathering the turmoil of falling behind 16 to rally and win by 10. Then came Georgetown and a came which was the very best of what UNC could be and the very worst. During that game this team showed why they could be and why they could win a national champion. It also showed that their youth and inexperience was an inherent flaw. The fortunate thing is the flaw is not a permanent one. If the defections are limited to graduation and one NBA draft pick, UNC will come back with the talent and the refinement of having played deep into the tournament which ended with a trying loss. That kind of loss is the foundation for a hungry and hardened team.
Among the players I was most impressed with were obviously Tyler Hansbrough and Brandan Wright. Hansbrough is just an incredibly tough player who somehow manages to make shots even though he was three players on him. Wright is a freak of nature and some of the plays he made with his length and leaping ability were eye popping. Everyone loves Ty Lawson for his speed but I am impressed with his ability to put the ball off the backboard among the trees and hit a shot. It takes a pretty fearless heart to go into the lane like that. Deon Thompson and Alex Stepheson are going to be solid big men and may be destined for all conference caliber careers. Wayne Ellington showed that he can be a very good shooter in spurts. If he can work on his shot creation and consistency in general he will be an incredible two guard. Danny Green, Wes Miller, and Bobby Frasor(when he was healthy) contributed in big ways at certain times which was a product of the Roy Williams rotation and that is using certain players for certain tasks, especially on defense. Marcus Ginyard is a THF favorite because I have always liked the Steve Hale-George Lynch-David Noel type player who plays good defense, scraps after the ball, and has all of the “garbage cleanup” plays that no one else can do. Quentin Thomas is an incredible passer and at times was quite impressive running the point. I hope we see more of him there next season. And finally Reyshawn Terry, who was expected to do more as a senior and had trouble finding a role on the offensive end. I was critical of him at times for making boneheaded plays but his contributions in the postseason were irreplacable. In fact he took a three pointer and missed with 3:03 to go against Georgetown and UNC only up three. I just knew it was going in because Terry had hit so many of those over the latter half of the season but unfortunately it rimmed out. I actually thought he should have been coming off that screen instead of Ellington. I really wish Terry could have least gotten to the Final Four as a starter, there is no way of knowing what kind of Final Four he might had had. For all we know it might have been Donald Williams-like in nature.
So, great season Heels and congratulations on giving us a thrilling 31 win ride for the past five months, now we wait for the NBA decisions and I am really hoping that it is limited to just one.