Commentary

CBB Summer Buzz: North Carolina

A roster rich in talent makes the Tar Heels a favorite to reach the Final Four

Originally Published: August 1, 2011
By Sarah Turcotte | ESPN The Magazine
Harrison BarnesGetty ImagesThe return of Harrison Barnes to Chapel Hill gives the Tar Heels arguably the best player in the country.

Insider knows you're hot for hoops during the summer, so we're bringing you a closer look at a few of the high-profile programs before most freshmen have even moved into their dorms. We continue with North Carolina Monday.

North Carolina Tar Heels
2010-11: 29-8, (NCAA tournament - Elite Eight)

"It's a great day to be a Tar Heel."

The Carolina-faithful mantra usually rings true come spring, but this season, UNC fans are poised for a yearlong lovefest. Not only do the Heels return all five starters from last year's Elite Eight squad, but they also bring in the country's No. 4 recruiting class to bolster their experienced vets.

The 2010-11 season was a little rough for the highly-touted Heels and top frosh Harrison Barnes. After missing out on a 2009 tourney bid and losing two of its first three preseason games in Puerto Rico, Carolina slid from a preseason top-five standing all the way off the charts in the fall. Just as quickly, Barnes went from "the next big thing" to "the next big bust," and Roy's Boys stumbled into the new year with four losses.

Luckily, the conference season righted most wrongs. Barnes scored 40 points in the ACC tourney against Clemson and was the league's rookie of the year. Fellow frosh Kendall Marshall secured starting point guard duties just before Larry Drew II abruptly left Chapel Hill in January. Junior forward Tyler Zeller finally managed to stay healthy for a season and put up career numbers (15.2 ppg, 7.2 rpg). And sophomore John Henson was a monster on defense (10.1 rpg, 3.2 bpg). Things looked promising for the once-disappointing squad before the Heels ran into a boiling-hot Kentucky team in the Elite Eight.

But Carolina fans were under the impression the success couldn't last. Barnes, Zeller and Henson were on every analyst's lottery list. It seemed likely that at least one of the three would turn pro. But be it by luck, chance or fate, the three opted for another year in Chapel Hill. Now the returning talent will be joined by a number of stellar freshmen. The riches here? Embarrassing. And the national championship may be Carolina's to lose.