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The case for North Carolina to win the national championship in March Madness

With Cam Johnson and Coby White leading the way, the Tar Heels have the talent to win it all.

North Carolina is one of the few programs in America with the privilege of being able to reload, not rebuild. The Tar Heels have gone to the national title game twice in last three years with one championship ring to show for it, and took a No. 2 seed into last year’s tournament despite losing some key pieces. This year’s team had to replace a four-year starter at point guard in Joel Berry and its best two-way wing in Theo Pinson. No matter: UNC is a Final Four threat again.

Roy Williams’ team has a perfect blend of one-and-done freshmen and battle-tested seniors. The Tar Heels push the ball at every opportunity, share the rock, and have shooters all over the court. For a team that gets so much attention offensively, UNC also boasts a top-15 defense.

At 68 years old, Williams still feels on top of his game. He may not be producing NBA studs like his counterpart in Durham (North Carolina’s last lottery pick was Harrison Barnes in 2012), but he’s won as big and as consistently as any coach in the country over the last decade.

Williams already has three national titles since coming to Chapel Hill. This team has the talent to make it four.

3 reasons North Carolina can win the national championship

Coby White is coming into his own

White inherited Berry’s sizable shoes at point guard this season, putting his own spin on the position during a breakout freshman campaign: while Berry was more of a classic floor general, White is at his best when he’s looking to score. There are times when it feels like UNC’s offense will go as he goes.

Fortunately for the Tar Heels, White has been on a tear lately. He dropped 21 points on Duke, 28 points on Clemson, and 34 points on Syracuse in three of his last four games entering the ACC tournament. His game is equal parts style and substance, splashing step-back jumpers and burning teams in isolations. Meanwhile, he’s also continuing to improve as a playmaker, finishing with 40 more assists than turnovers.

Carolina has other guys who can carry the offense, but they’re at their best when White is cooking.

The Heels can run you off the floor

North Carolina plays fast, faster than any team in the tournament field. The Tar Heels finished the season No. 4 in adjusted tempo, with only low-major schools in front of them. An up-tempo system has always been a major part of UNC’s identity under Williams, but they’re pushing it to new extremes this season. Williams has never had a team play as fast as this one since taking over in 2004.

The Tar Heels run at every opportunity. Made baskets are just an excuse for a throw-ahead pass that starts the secondary break. It works because UNC has a team of unselfish players, assisting on 62 percent of their made field goals this season, which ranked No. 5 in the country.

NCAA tournament games so often come down to who can control the tempo. There’s no mystery surrounding how UNC wants to play.

UNC has 3 senior leaders

North Carolina may exist along the same blue blood pedigree lines as Duke, Kansas, and Kentucky, but they’re the only one who will routinely develop players through their senior year. This season’s team has three senior that make up the backbone of the starting lineup: forwards Cameron Johnson and Luke Maye and shooting guard Kenny Williams.

Johnson has put himself on NBA radars with a breakout season, hitting 47 percent of his three-pointers on nearly six attempts per game. At 6’9, there just aren’t many teams who have a wing big enough to match up with him. Maye — formerly a preferred walk-on and already an NCAA tournament hero — has had a down year, but UNC will be hoping he can get back to being a productive front court staple. If not, Williams may have to go with freshman Nassir Little, a projected NBA lottery pick who has struggled to find his spot in the rotation.

There’s also Kenny Williams, a shooting guard who has also seen his numbers dip this year but is still capable of getting hot from deep. Carolina might not have great depth, but they won’t need it as long as all of their starters play up to their capabilities.

The path for North Carolina to win it all

UNC won’t be thrilled to see Kansas and Kentucky in its region. While the Jayhawks fell short of lofty preseason expectations this year, they remain scary as a potential Sweet 16 matchup. Kentucky will be favored to be UNC’s opponent in the Elite Eight.

Kentucky vs. North Carolina for the right to go to the Final Four again? After Maye’s buzzer-beater two years ago, we need to see a rematch. In the Final Four, UNC could face Virginia or Tennessee. Everyone will hope for round four against Duke in the national title.