Jan. 10, 2005
Watching North Carolina in person Saturday vs. Maryland -- I called the game with ESPN play-by-play man Brad Nessler -- I was so impressed by the Tar Heels' talent. I had seen the Tar Heels on television earlier this season and also called one of their earlier games, but after watching them blow out a good Maryland team 109-75, I know why they're a legitimate contender for the national championship.
North Carolina has so many ways to beat you and so many different weapons that are tough to defend. The way the Heels handle the basketball, the way they run on the fast break off a miss or off a made basket, the way they score in transition off a turnover ... wow!
The other aspect of the Heels' game that impressed me was their teamwork. This group has become more unselfish and is more willing to share the basketball and look for the open man. Carolina's players have been talking about how they've really developed into a team. That's one big key that was missing a year ago.
Junior guard Rashad McCants is a different player this season. In the past, in a one-on-three situation, he would have looked to make a move and take his shot. Now he looks for his teammates and doesn't force his offense. He is still so talented and will score his share of points, but his unselfishness makes the Tar Heels much more dangerous and more efficient offensively.
I have a feeling that McCants can score almost any time he wants -- he's that talented. But it's smarter for him to look for his teammates.
Junior center Sean May has been the nation's best post player during the first half of the season. He can get position low to score, and he's a force on the glass, a real Windex man.
You can also see the difference when junior point guard Raymond Felton is in the lineup. North Carolina's lone loss, in the season opener to Santa Clara, came when Felton was sitting out a one-game suspension for playing in a summer-league game. Against Maryland, you could see that when Felton took a breather, the Tar Heels also lost a little bit on offense.
With May inside, McCants taking it to the goal or stepping out, and Felton distributing the rock, the Tar Heels have the most dangerous trio in college basketball.
And North Carolina has more than this outstanding trio. Senior forward Jawad Williams has been outstanding, averaging 17 points per game and shooting 65 percent from the field.
Freshman forward Marvin Williams has shown his brilliance as a diaper dandy despite averaging under 25 minutes per game (10.1 ppg, 6.5 rpg). His future is so bright. Senior guard Melvin Scott has accepted his role off the bench and contributes solid minutes. Plus, the Tar Heels can shoot the trifecta.
Again, North Carolina beat a good Maryland team. The bottom line is that the Terps didn't have an answer defensively, and the Tar Heels are capable of big spurts. Maryland had a five-point lead in the first half ... and the next thing you knew, North Carolina had a 15-point lead.
Carolina's enthusiasm and energy really stood out. Coach Roy Williams knows he has a Rolls Royce program to sell, and the Tar Heels are back among the nation's elite after a roller-coaster ride for a few years.
North Carolina is capable of big things this season. It won't come easily, because the ACC is loaded. The Tar Heels have two tough tests this week: home vs. Georgia Tech (Wednesday, ESPN, 7 p.m. ET) and at Wake Forest (Saturday, ABC, 1:30 p.m. ET).
Dick Vitale coached the Pistons and the University of Detroit before broadcasting ESPN's first college basketball game in 1979. Send a question to Vitale for possible use on ESPNEWS.