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No. 1: North Carolina Tar Heels


Mike Miller

It’s Midnight Madness day. So we’re kicking off our college basketball coverage with our men’s preseason Top 25. Look for five teams posted a day, all this week.

2010-11 record: 29-8, (14-2) 1st in ACC
Lost in Elite Eight

Coach: Roy Williams, 225-62, 9th year (643-163 overall)

Last NCAA miss: 2010

2011-12 roster [click here]
2011-12 schedule [click here]
2010-11 team stats [click here]

The good: What’s not to like?

Tyler Zeller (finally healthy) was fantastic last year, rebounding well and scoring efficiently. John Henson emerged as a force on the boards and as a shot blocker. Hey, with arms like that, he’s just doing what he’s supposed to. Kendall Marshall’s a natural point guard; small wonder the Heels’ season turned around once he stepped in as a starter. Dexter Strickland’s versatile and a solid defender.

And Harrison Barnes? Place him on the shortlist for national player of the year.

Adding incoming freshmen James Michael McAdoo and P.J. Hairston to the mix only adds future NBA players. The talent is on par with Kentucky and UConn, but the ultimate edge is that experience. That’s how it goes with five starters back.

So again, what’s not to like? Hey, even the new unis are nice.

The bad: OK, I got one thing – perimeter shooting.

The Heels made just 32.8 percent of their 3-pointers last season, hardly a recipe for success when teams take away Zeller down low or Barnes isn’t on. Add injury to junior Leslie McDonald only exacerbates that weakness. He was the Heels’ best perimeter shooter last year.

Wing Reggie Bullock – who missed most of last season because of a knee injury – will return. He’s a natural outside threat, but rarely showed when healthy as a freshman. The outside shooting isn’t a small thing. That Elite Eight loss to Kentucky? The 3s were the difference.

The unknown: UNC enters the season as the favorites. Maybe not overwhelming favorites (Kentucky and UConn take exception to that), but favorites. It’s similar to 2008-09 when the Heels lived up to those expectations.

The difference? They were clearly the best team. That’s not the case this time around. UNC also was the team to beat in 2007-08 when Kansas, Memphis and UCLA all boasted Final Four-caliber teams (and Kansas won).

Handling that pressure is always the elephant in the room, right? It’s what players get asked every day and it’s what fans expect. As if winning an NCAA title were easy. But that’s what’s expected of the Heels this season.

Counting down the preseason Top 25

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.