I do not think North Carolina will go undefeated this season.
There, I said it.
So that should clear up any confusion in regards to my comment last week about how I couldn't wait to see "if" North Carolina can "go wire-to-wire and perhaps even undefeated." I purposely used the words "if" and "perhaps" because I wasn't predicting an undefeated season as much as presenting it as a possibility, and I thought that was obvious.
|Super Tar Heels freshman Ed Davis goes from Team USA duty to Chapel Hill. (Getty Images)|
Point No. 1: I agree, the odds of UNC going undefeated aren't great.
Point No. 2: But you are insane if you don't think it's possible.
As always, I'm happy to explain. Before I do, let's establish two things about which we can surely all agree:
1. The Tar Heels should be better this season than they were last season.
Because the top six players are back -- a year older, stronger, wiser, etc., -- and joined by a pair of elite freshmen (Tyler Zeller and Ed Davis). So on paper, there is no question, this version of the Tar Heels is better than that version of the Tar Heels.
2. The nation as a whole should not be as good this season as it was last season.
Because the group of players entering college isn't as impactful as the group of players that just left college. In fact, I would argue no team this season (outside of North Carolina) will be as good as Kansas, Memphis, UCLA and North Carolina were last season, which means, on paper, there is no question that the quality of this season's elite teams won't be as high as the quality of last season's elite teams.
You still with me?
Now let's assume you're picking North Carolina to win the national title because everybody is picking North Carolina to win the national title. That implies the Tar Heels are expected to go 6-0 in the NCAA tournament, meaning that when the discussion is whether they can go undefeated, all we're really talking about is whether they can navigate the regular season without a loss.
Who is your No. 1 team?
Total Votes: 13,856
And guess what?
They almost did it last season!
The Tar Heels only had two regular-season losses in 2007-08 -- one to Duke and one to Maryland. The Duke loss came when UNC played without its top two point guards (Ty Lawson and Bobby Frasor) because of injuries. But I think it's fair to suggest the Tar Heels would have won the game had Lawson been healthy if only because when he was healthy later in the season he helped North Carolina to a 76-68 victory at Duke.
As for the other loss, well, it was 82-80 to Maryland, and North Carolina led with less than 90 seconds left and missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer. So that game could obviously have gone either way, which means North Carolina was perhaps just a healthy Lawson and last-second 3-pointer against Maryland away from entering the 2008 NCAA tournament undefeated.
So I ask: Why would anybody think it's unrealistic for North Carolina to go undefeated this season when it's clear the Tar Heels A) very well could have entered last season's NCAA tournament undefeated; B) should be better than they were last season; and C) will be competing against a national field that shouldn't be as challenging as the national field from last season?
Put that way, it doesn't seem so farfetched.
And with that, let's look at the preseason Top 25 (and one):
1. North Carolina: Despite my belief that UNC can go undefeated, I don't actually think it will happen. That's why my official prediction is that the Tar Heels will win the national title with a 38-1 record. But again, a perfect record is a possibility and don't even think about sending an e-mail suggesting otherwise.
|Terrance Williams and Earl Clark will be in the NBA, but for now they help Louisville. (Getty Images)|
3. Connecticut: The Huskies will miss what freshman Nate Miles could have brought. But there's still enough talent to help Jim Calhoun win his third national title.
4. Duke: This Duke team is flawed, I admit. But Mike Krzyzewski won 28 games with a flawed team last season, and every relevant player from that flawed team is back except DeMarcus Nelson.
5. Notre Dame: Could a Final Four team really be the third-best team in its own league? Yes. Because that's how strong the Big East will be this season.
6. Purdue: The Boilermakers lack the wow factor. But there's something to be said for experienced and steady winners, and that's exactly what Matt Painter has at his disposal.
7. UCLA: It's crazy to think UCLA could lose three NBA Draft picks and still win the Pac-10. Crazy, but not wrong.
8. Gonzaga: Mark Few has the most talented team in Gonzaga history. Now let's see if it can become the best.
9. Michigan State: Does it not seem like the Drew Neitzel era lasted forever? If you're interested, Neitzel is now with the Artland Dragons in Germany.
10. Pittsburgh: The uncertainty about the health of Levance Fields is enough to keep Pitt fans worried. But if Fields is good, the Panthers can be really good.
|The talented Mr. Smith, Tyler, leads the Vols to the cusp of the top 10. (Getty Images)|
12. Texas: The Longhorns would be ranked second if D.J. Augustin had returned. He didn't. But they'll still be strong without him.
13. Memphis: It says something about a program when an expected "down" year still garners a preseason top 15 ranking.
14. Marquette: The downside of the great situation Buzz Williams inherited is that he won't enjoy the same honeymoon most new coaches enjoy.
15. Georgetown: DaJuan Summers, Austin Freeman and Greg Monroe are the type of talents that can keep Georgetown near the top of the Big East.
16. Villanova: The guess here is that Villanova won't have to sneak into the NCAA tournament this season.
17. Miami (Fla.): Raise your hand if you ever imagined Miami basketball would be better than Miami football. It's almost as crazy as ever thinking Notre Dame basketball would be better than Notre Dame football or Tennessee basketball would be better than Tennessee football. Oh wait ...
18. Arizona State: While N.C. State should be down again, the coach N.C. State fans ran off (Herb Sendek) will be doing just fine in the Pac-10.
19. Ohio State: From Greg Oden to Kosta Koufos, Ohio State is becoming something of a Big Man U. Next up is B.J. Mullens, a 7-foot freshman who is likely a one-and-done player just like Oden and Koufos before him.
20. Oklahoma: Whenever Tom Crean is feeling down, he can look to Jeff Capel and realize it's possible to clean up a mess and make a program relevant again.
|Like O.J. Mayo before him, DeMar DeRozan comes to Tim Floyd's Trojans as a McDonald's All-American. (Getty Images)|
22. Wisconsin: You know how Steve Spurrier always ranks Duke on his preseason football ballot? That's how I'm going to be with Wisconsin from now on, though it's worth noting Wisconsin is better at basketball than Duke is at football.
23. UNLV: Once again, the Rebels should be near the top of the Mountain West, winning games and preparing to advance in the NCAA tournament.
24. Florida: The Gators need points and rebounds from the center position, even if they come from some combination of players instead of just one.
25. Davidson: Here you go, Davidson fans. I put the Wildcats in the Top 25 (and one), as promised. Now don't let me down.
26. Baylor: The top five scorers are back from a 21-win team. Now if the Bears could just get John Wall committed everything would be perfect in Waco.
Ten teams that could make me pay for not ranking them (in alphabetical order):
Arizona; Kansas; Kentucky; LSU; Saint Mary's; Syracuse; Virginia Tech; Wake; Forest; West Virginia; Xavier.
|2008-09 Season Preview/Conference Countdown Schedule|
|Monday, Oct. 20||Preseason Top 25 (and one)||Thursday, Oct. 30||Ranking the best of the non-BCS|
|Tuesday, Oct. 21||Preseason All-America Team||Friday, Oct. 31||No. 6: Big Ten|
|Wednesday, Oct. 22||Player rankings: Points/combos||Monday, Nov. 3||No. 5: Pac-10|
|Thursday, Oct. 23||Player rankings: Wings||Tuesday, Nov. 4||No. 4: Big 12|
|Friday, Oct. 24||Player rankings: Big men||Wednesday, Nov. 5||No. 3: SEC|
|Monday, Oct. 27||Impact Freshmen||Thursday, Nov. 6||No. 2: ACC|
|Tuesday, Oct. 28||Coaches on the hot seat||Friday, Nov. 7||No. 1: Big East|
|Wednesday, Oct. 29||Games to watch||Monday, Nov. 10||Preseason tourney projections|