North Carolina makes a statement in Durham.

When the college basketball season started the North Carolina Tar Heels were pretty much the consensus pre-season number 1 team in the country. Despite a 26-4 record this team had at least slightly underachieved in most folk’s estimation.

Early in the year there was 10 point loss to UNLV. The 73-72 loss at Kentucky was acceptable. Then there was the humiliating 33 point loss at Florida State followed by a late home collapse against the Duke Blue Devils 85-84. Sprinkled in were plenty of wins, but the performances were not always what you would expect from a team considered a national title contender to start the year. Kentucky and Syracuse looked like the country’s best teams. Michigan St., Kansas, and Duke were fighting it out for the remaining 2 number 1 seeds, and well UNC was there but a little bit forgotten, until Saturday night.

For the first time in over 2 months I actually felt North Carolina was a team that could win the National Title. For maybe the first time all season North Carolina played like they could win the National Title for a full 40 minutes in a stunningly easy 88-70 win over the 3rd ranked Blue Devils. All year we’ve waited for UNC to play with a killer instinct. When Duke cut a 26 point 2nd half lead to 11, you figured here we go again. North Carolina with all that talent but lacking the ability to consistently finish off opponents, but with PG Kendall Marshall leading the way the Heels put the Blue Devils away in style. Now you might argue it was just one game or Duke was not as good as their ranking. Here’s my answer to both…

It wasn’t just one game, UNC has been building to this since that FSU loss. Take out the final 2 minutes against Duke in the Chapel Hill loss, and the Heels would have won 12 straight games heading into tonight’s game. That includes some credible road wins at Miami, NC State and Virginia. On Saturday it just all came together against Duke.  The Blue Devil’s lack athleticism and don’t defend that well, but a team with 4 top 15 RPI wins doesn’t have to apologize for anything. Coach K has maximized his team’s talent and that is a mentally tough bona fide top 10 team. North Carolina answered every Duke run. The Heels are now back in position for a number 1 seed having moved ahead of Duke, and with an ACC Tournament Title would lock up that seed.

Going into that ACC Tournament, you have to make the Heels the favorite. They wouldn’t have to play Florida State or Duke until the Finals and they haven’t lost to any other team in the ACC. Anything can happen, but the Heels seem to be peaking at the right time and that’s bad news for anyone else they face.

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