North Carolina trailed the Miami Hurricanes for the entire game on Friday, but in the end, all it took was a lay-up by Tyler Zeller to give them the lead and a victory as time expired.
Well, that, and it also took a beautiful pass by Kendall Marshall. Plus a 22-4 run over the last two minutes. And a run of hot three-point shooting. And most importantly, a ton of help from a Miami team that literally did everything they possibly could to give away the win.
And as a Heels fan, I'm not quite sure how to feel right now. It's a mix of relief that we won, and complete terror that they almost lost, and...err... Not even just "almost lost." Almost lost like that. Until North Carolina made that run with 7:00 minutes left, they weren't just losing, but they looked terrible on both ends, and maybe even a little disinterested. Not exactly what you're looking for a week away from the NCAA Tournament.
The terror comes from knowing that with a team as young as Carolina this year, games like that can (and have) come at any time over the next few weeks. They're looking more and more like a no. 1 seed, but the two most important players on the team are still freshmen, and one of them just happens to be the most confusing player I've seen in college since (maybe) Marvin Williams.
One minute, Harrison Barnes looks like the most explosive athlete in college hoops. The next ten minutes, he disappears. Then he hits a game-winner, and nobody knows what to think.
Barnes embodies the whole team, actually. There are times when Carolina looks better than any team in the country. Then other times, they look completely average. But here we are at the end of the year, and UNC's on the brink of being a number one seed in the NCAA tournament, and maybe even a Final Four favorite.
I wish I felt more confident in Roy Williams' ability to make it all work when the tournament gets going next week, but it's just impossible to predict what you're going to get with this year's UNC team, and Roy obviously can't change that. Will they be the team that beat the living crap out of Duke and Maryland and NC State, or the team that barely beat BC, Miami, and Clemson? They've basically alternated back and forth for the past month.
Which, again... Harrison Barnes. He was UNC's saving grace during the first half, but then the run got going and the Heels needed a couple big buckets to finally take the lead, it was all about Kendall Marshall and Tyler Zeller. Asking a coach to figure out the riddle with Barnes is sort of impossible.
Roy's a great coach, but he's not a horse whisperer.
If Barnes were to stay another year at UNC, you get the sense he'd figure things out, and evolve into a player that dominates all the time. That's what happens when guys learn how to harness their gifts. It'd be the same with the whole team, and as they get better playing together, they'll be more consistent, and more controlled, AND more explosive.
But it's a fairy tale to think Barnes would ever come back to UNC; he's a top 3 pick, and the NBA fan in me is already plotting scenarios to get him to the Wizards. All of which means this year's team is probably the best shot UNC's going to get at a national title.
None of this would matter if it weren't for the flashes that Barnes shows, and the stretches where Carolina really looks like a title contender. But as a fan, it hurts more to get so close and miss. You know? It'd be one thing if they just weren't that good, but when they play well, UNC probably has more talent than anyone in the country. Like, in a seven game series, I'd take the Heels against any team in the country. But to win six straight games?
The team that's spent the past six weeks alternating between blowing teams out and barely escaping, with Kendall Marshall still just a month into starting at point guard? Somewhere in there, they've got the talent to get to a Final Four and win it all. But they're young, they'll (clearly) hit a few slumps, and not every opponent will choke the way Miami did today. Really, Kendall Marshall has been fantastic, but the only way I can see Carolina can winning it all is if Harrison Barnes just takes over and dominates the whole way.
So... See why I'm a little bit terrified?