It's easy to get a sense of how potent North Carolina is just by watching the Heels play.
The easy baskets off the break. The multiple scoring options. The deep quality on the bench.
Only after you take a harder look at the raw numbers, though, can you really understand how efficient this Tar Heels team is offensively. It is that efficiency (matched with the pace at which it plays and the quality of its players) that makes North Carolina the premier offensive team in the nation.
It is that efficiency that will take the Heels to the Final Four.
I'm certainly not the first person to espouse efficiency ratings as a better means by which to evaluate a college hoops team. Ken Pomeroy, among a number of others, has done some very good work on his Web site with tempo-adjusted rates of offensive and defensive efficiency. Kudos also to SI.com's Luke Winn, who referenced some of these concepts last week in discussing the Heels.
I do, however, want to take a deeper look inside those numbers. The following chart shows North Carolina's vital offensive statistics against the other top teams in the country:
Possessions are calculated as FGA + TO - Off Reb + (0.4 x FTA)
North Carolina currently is third on the list at 1.19 points per possession (PPP), but maintains that rate over 78 possessions a game, which is astonishing. North Carolina basically scores at an extremely high rate at a pace that is five possessions a game ahead of anyone else (and 10+ more than almost every other top team).
You can argue that No. 1 Illinois, at 1.25 PPP, is a more efficient scoring team (due in large part to the Illini's almost impossibly low 10.7 turnovers per game; UNC averages a fairly high 17.8 per outing), but Illinois only averages 65 possessions a game. UNC basically has 20 percent more chances to score each game than Illinois does, meaning an opponent has to keep up a blistering pace for that much longer in order to hang with the Heels.
Additionally, North Carolina's numbers are skewed more than the others by the deep end of its bench. UNC's starters only average 12.1 turnovers per game (versus 8.0 for Illinois' starters) and while Carolina's starting five averages a robust 1.54 points per shot (versus 1.44 for Illinois' five), that doesn't even include superfrosh Marvin Williams, who is at a stellar 1.70.
Accordingly, the gap in overall scoring efficiency grows in Carolina's favor when you look at the guys who play in the regular rotation. Carolina has also posted these numbers against a significantly stronger overall schedule (although Illinois' has been impacted by 1-20 Longwood and three other teams which are 4-10 or worse).
Prefer more traditional stats? North Carolina's overall team rates of 51.3 percent from the field, 73.2 percent from the free throw line and 42.8 percent from 3-point range trump the Illini in all three categories. North Carolina also has five double-digit scorers and several other solid complementary options -- quality depth that Illinois can't quite match.
It seems clear that UNC is slightly better than Illinois (and Wake Forest, and much better than Kansas) on the offensive end. Can you guess the team in the Top 25 whose offensive efficiency and depth most closely resembles North Carolina's? Try Gonzaga.
What's most impressive to me is that the Zags maintain that offensive prowess while relying less (relatively) on the 3-pointer than almost every other team in the country (currently 320th in 3-point production, per Pomeroy, and only averaging a bit over five 3s a game).
I know they don't play particularly great defense, but I think the WCC will push the Zags much more this season in preparation for March and I like any team that can score consistently from close to the basket. Don't sleep on the Zags as a darkhorse pick to make it to St. Louis.
Anyway, what does all of this mean for North Carolina in layman's terms? It suggests the Heels will not go through game-altering droughts on the offensive end (and could cause them, as their third-ranked defensive efficiency rating, per Pomeroy, suggests) and have a much greater likelihood of scoring on a possession than almost anyone they play.
Knowing that, would you want to see these guys on a neutral floor or try to stop them from scoring on a final possession? Didn't think so.
Andy Glockner is the men's college basketball editor for ESPN.com. E-mail him with comments.