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Tar Heels can win Final Four

When I transferred to North Carolina as a junior, I got to see two of Dean Smith’s finest coaching jobs.He coaxed a Final Four finish out of a talented but paper-thin team with Rasheed Wallace, Jerry Stackhouse and Jeff McInnis in 1995, then got a couple of freshmen named Vince Carter and Antawn Jamison into the tournament’s second round in 1996 when I was a senior.The thing is, neither one of those teams was playing Carolina basketball – not enough depth for the run-and-jump defense, never a big enough lead to run the Four Corners offense. You could even argue that Carolina hasn’t played Carolina basketball since the year the Tar Heels won their last title, 1993.Until now, that is.Dean’s disciple Roy Williams has the Heels running and gunning and jumping and winning again, like Carolina used to. And that – plus a fantastic amount of bias – is why I’m picking my alma mater for the Final Four and maybe more.People out here just know UNC as a big, Southern university with a good basketball team (or say “UNC? I went to school in Greeley, too.”). But people back east know it as a pretty decent school, too.And this year’s team is a good reflection of that. I’m not suggesting Carolina’s starting five are necessarily Mensa candidates, but these Tar Heels are a team that has learned from each loss. Gagging in the season opener against Santa Clara taught the Tar Heels an appreciation for point guard Raymond Felton and the importance of not taking any opponent lightly. They didn’t, and they won the ACC title by not taking any nights off.The most dramatic example, though, was the turnaround against its archrival, the University of New Jersey at Durham. After losing the ball and the first game against Dook on a last-possession turnover, the Heels turned the scenario around in the rematch and won the game. Now they’re looking for redemption for their last loss, when swingman Rashad McCants’ three-pointer at the buzzer fell short against red-hot Georgia Tech.Roy Williams’ returning the Tar Heels to their roots stacks the deck for them in their tournament. With center Sean May starting the break, Felton running it and McCants finishing – and, finally, a deep bench behind them – Carolina can sprint baseline to baseline with the likes of Illinois and Wake. They’ve beaten the stall in sweeping Virginia and N.C. State. And they’ve come out on top of the meatgrinder that’s the regular season in the expanded ACC.All that boning up on basketball should pay off during the NCAA’s final exams – the Final Four.Dan Thomas is a copy editor at the Post Independent and a 1996 graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.


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