North Carolina

Instant Analysis: Miami no fluke, neither are Heels

UNC's P.J. Hairston (15) drives to the basket past the Miami defense for two of his 15 first half points during the ACC Championship game against Miami on Sunday March 17, 2013 at the Greensboro Coliseum.
UNC's P.J. Hairston (15) drives to the basket past the Miami defense for two of his 15 first half points during the ACC Championship game against Miami on Sunday March 17, 2013 at the Greensboro Coliseum. rwillett@newsobserver.com

You can’t accuse North Carolina of going anything less than full speed. The Tar Heels gave it everything they had in the 87-77 loss.

That it wasn’t enough was testament less to another swing-and-miss in Greensboro -- North Carolina hasn’t won an ACC title here since 1998 -- than to how deep, talented and well coached Miami is.

Miami winning the ACC basketball title is a lot like Wake Forest winning the ACC football title: Two old, experienced teams from unheralded programs that put all the pieces together at the right time.

Shane Larkin is a stud. That regular-season championship was no fluke.

Then again, neither are the Tar Heels.

As we head into the NCAA tournament, North Carolina clearly stands as the most compelling of the Triangle teams. Duke, despite its early exit here, is primed for a long run. N.C. State, despite making the semifinals here, looks like it can’t wait for the season to be over -- and it probably will be soon.

But the Tar Heels are a wild card, particularly with P.J. Hairston shooting like there’s no tomorrow -- which, coincidentally, he thought there might not be after tearing his hand open Friday night -- and James Michael McAdoo playing like he did last March, as if he can sense the NBA draft lottery approaching.

It’s the continual development of freshman point guard Marcus Paige that really sets an uncertain ceiling for the Tar Heels, who will be a single-digit seed but not one forecast to make it out of the first weekend.

Paige held his own about as well as could be expected against Larkin, who would not be denied Sunday, but he’s gotten better and better in the second half of the season, almost on a game-by-game basis. If that improvement continues, the Tar Heels are primed to overachieve.

By the same token, they’re still heavily dependent on the outside shooting of Hairston and Reggie Bullock, which is always a recipe for booming and/or busting.

The Tar Heels faced a better team Sunday. How long will it be before that happens again?

For the record, my all-tournament ballot: Larkin (MVP), Hairston, Durand Scott (Miami), Scott Wood (N.C. State), Olivier Hanlan (Boston College). I went with Wood and Hanlan over Paige and Dez Wells (Maryland), who may well end up winning. All worthy picks.

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