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Previewing the season's top teams: UNC

11/10/2011
Lance King/Icon SMI

John Henson (left) and Harrison Barnes (right) look to lead the Tar Heels to a national championship this season.

There is a familiar name atop the national rankings this year. The North Carolina Tar Heels are ranked number one in the preseason ESPN/USA Today Coaches’ Poll for the third time in the history of the preseason poll (since 1997-98). That’s tied for second-most among all teams, behind only Duke (4).

The Tar Heels return 90 percent of their scoring and rebounding from last year’s team that advanced to the Elite Eight, including the top six scorers and top three rebounders.

The most notable player returning to Chapel Hill is Harrison Barnes, the 2011 ACC Rookie of the Year. Barnes averaged 15.7 PPG last season, tied for the fourth-highest average by a freshman in Division I.

Harrison Barnes, 2010-11 Season

And Barnes really didn't get going until the final stretch of the season.

In the final two months of the season, Barnes shot over 45 percent from the field and averaged 19 points per game, including a 40-point effort against Clemson in the ACC Tournament, as the Tar Heels won 17 of their final 20 games.

Key to the Season: Run, Run, Run

North Carolina played at the fastest pace in the ACC last year, averaging 72.8 possessions per 40 minutes. The Tar Heels executed the fastbreak more than nearly every team, attempting 436 field goals in transition, third-most in Division I. Their 611 points in transition were fourth-most in the country.

However, while the offense excelled in transition, their fastbreak defense was not up to par. They allowed opponents to shoot 52.6 percent from the field in transition, which ranked 187th out of 342 teams with at least 100 transition plays and ninth in the ACC.

The Tar Heels most successful play type in 2010-11 was the Pick and Roll Man offense, which refers to a play in which the player that sets the screen when running a pick and roll gets the ball. North Carolina made two-thirds of its shots in this offense, the seventh-highest mark in Division I and best in the league.

John Henson was the main beneficiary of these plays, scoring 34 points while making 16 of his 22 shot attempts in the Pick and Roll Man offense. His average of 1.42 points per possession was third-best in the ACC and his shooting percentage of 72.7 was fourth-highest in the league (min. 10 plays) in these situations.