No. 4 Tar Heels ready to prove themselves in ACCs

Associated Press  |  Last updated March 05, 2012
North Carolina was a preseason No. 1 stocked with experience and potential NBA talent that cruised through the regular season showing only flashes of the dominant form everyone had expected. The fourth-ranked Tar Heels have gotten everyone's attention again. North Carolina clinched the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season championship by overwhelming Duke in its famously hostile arena. The question now is whether that weekend performance was just one game or the start of something more for the Tar Heels heading into this week's ACC tournament in Atlanta. ''In the beginning of the year, we kind of just expected it to happen,'' senior 7-footer Tyler Zeller said Monday. ''We expected, not necessarily to be where we were last year, but we knew how good we could be and we weren't making the necessary steps to completely get there.'' North Carolina (27-4, 14-2 ACC) sure didn't look like a title favorite when it lost by 33 at Florida State in January. Nor when the Tar Heels blew a 10-point lead in the final 2 1/2 minutes to lose at home to the Blue Devils on a last-second 3-pointer. But they haven't lost since. Six of their seven wins have come by at least nine points, with a 54-51 win at then-ranked Virginia on Feb. 25 as the only close call. In Saturday's 88-70 win at Duke, the Tar Heels - playing with an anger that had burned since the first meeting - jumped ahead 22-5, led 48-24 at halftime and pushed the margin to 26 points early in the second half in a situation rarely seen at Cameron Indoor Stadium. The trick for coach Roy Williams is to get a team with potential NBA first-round draft picks in Zeller, Harrison Barnes and John Henson to play with that same edge every game, regardless of the opponent. ''There were a lot of things that had both teams possibly playing at a really high level,'' Williams said of the Duke win. ''It's hard to simulate all those things because you can't make up stuff. But the big-time teams give that kind of effort mentally and physically and more consistently than the other teams. ''But again, I can't complain about too many things. We can always nitpick. ... My team's had a pretty doggone good year.'' Still, there's no denying that difference from a demeanor that ranged somewhere between boredom and indifference during a series of early lopsided wins. Before UNC's win at Cameron, the toughness from a late-season run to last year's ACC regular-season title and an NCAA regional final only resurfaced in big games like the one-point loss at Kentucky in December or during much of the second half of the 85-84 loss to Duke on Feb. 8. At times, it was almost as though the Tar Heels wanted to just fast forward through the regular season to March. And here they are, positioned to claim a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament with a good showing in Atlanta. Williams said his team didn't have a good practice Monday morning to start the week, though he admitted it was ''human nature'' after the emotional win in Durham. ''We were lacking energy,'' sophomore point guard Kendall Marshall said. ''On one hand you can say it was expected, but at the same time, we're striving for bigger goals. That's not the first step we want to get out to going into these next three games.'' The players certainly got a lesson in the importance of refocusing after a big win at this time last year. They followed a win against Duke that secured the regular-season crown with a flat performance in the ACC tournament. They had to rally from 19 down in the second half to beat Miami in the quarterfinals, then from 14 down to beat Clemson in overtime in the semifinals. By the time they faced the Blue Devils in the championship game, the Tar Heels - Marshall, in particular - had nothing left and lost by 17. And even that pales in comparison to the Florida State debacle. The number ''33'' from that loss is still written on a board in the UNC locker room, a humbling reminder of the worst-case scenario if the Tar Heels don't play to their potential. ''I think you have to be able to pick up your focus, your concentration, your effort, just your play in general,'' Zeller said. ''You lose, you're done. And for me, that's the end of my college career.''
GET THE YARDBARKER APP:
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45
MORE FROM YARDBARKER

Rob Manfred: No significant rule changes in 2017, blames MLBPA

Report: Zach Britton has potential oblique injury

The Rock returns to WWE, leaves CM Punk a voicemail after 'Raw'

After outfield collision, Ichiro pranks teammate and claims he’s been cut

Simeon Rice gets vulgar with radio host over HOF debate

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

Ronda Rousey to be guest star on NBC’s ‘Blindspot’

Lakers replace Jim Buss with Magic Johnson, fire Kupchak

Report: James Harrison, Steelers share mutual interest in 2017 return

Jimmy Garoppolo’s mom keeping him up to speed on his trade rumors

Report: Clippers intent on keeping both Blake Griffin, Chris Paul

Slam dunks and startups: How all-star technology took over the NBA in The Big Easy

Nintendo is finally, thankfully embracing sports and eSports

The 'Did the Kings just make the Pelicans into a super team?' quiz

Will the Timberwolves start showcasing their potential?

'Playmakers' in Ice Cube's league who can help the Cavs

Box Score 2/21: It's trade heartbreak season

The guard tandems you'd want in a 2-on-2 tournament

We got our hands on the new Nintendo Switch, here are our first impressions

Top 10 second basemen in baseball for 2017

Teams and players who could be dealing at the NBA trade deadline

As NHL trade deadline nears, seven teams who could be dealing

Baseball movies you can stream now to hold you over until Opening Day

Movies you can stream now to get your football fix

College Basketball News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Fox Sports Digital Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.
the YARDBARKER app
Get it now!
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45

Nintendo is finally, thankfully embracing sports and eSports

The 'Did the Kings just make the Pelicans into a super team?' quiz

Will the Timberwolves start showcasing their potential?

'Playmakers' in Ice Cube's league who can help the Cavs

QUIZ: Name every MLB pitcher to win 100 games with two different teams

The guard tandems you'd want in a 2-on-2 tournament

We got our hands on the new Nintendo Switch, here are our first impressions

Top 10 second basemen in baseball for 2017

Teams, players who could be dealing at the NBA trade deadline

As NHL trade deadline nears, seven teams who could be dealing

Today's Best Stuff
For Publishers
Company Info
Help
Follow Yardbarker