After Saturday, when the Tar Heels did everything to their opponent short of drinking their milkshake, you can't help but be impressed. They're the number one team in the country, so the only sensible thing to do is... debate whether they should be fourth or fifth?
Ken is convinced that UNC isn't the caliber of team of his three favorites, Kansas, Memphis and UCLA. His concerns mainly spring from their defense, the opponents they've played, and the fact that the Clemson game hung on a single impressive Wayne Ellington shot. Oh, and he thinks N.C. State blows. That's not really relevant, but I felt the need to toss that in there.
At 0.898 opposition points per possession, UNC does lag behind the other three teams, although not by much more than say, the Memphis offense trails UNC. The Heels are still Top 30 though, and not significantly different from where they were last year at this time - that team ended up looking pretty impressive defensively, up until eight horrible minutes in an NCAA regional final. They may not reach those heights again this year without Brendan Wright but to my untrained eye the perimeter defense is much improved, making the drive and pass for the outside shot strategy that served VT and Maryland so well last year a nonstarter; the only way so far to beat the Heels has been with Georgetown or Clemson muscle inside combined with excelent guard play. It also helps to Alex Stepheson not travelling with the team, forcing UNC to play smaller than they'd like. All in all, it takes a rare confluence of talent and advantages to beat Carolina so far this year.
Which brings up another question - has UNC just ducked those sorts of teams so far this year? It's a refrain I'm hearing more and more of over the past few weeks and I think it's based on two things. One, the non-conference schedule was front-loaded, leading to a long December of soft teams for the Heels to occasionally underperform against, and two that some of those early teams didn't achieve as expected, like Kentucky (7-7), Ohio State (12-4), BYU (12-4) and Louisville (12-4) who didn't even make it on the court to face UNC in Vegas. Perhaps if Carolina had gone the Duke route and taken much of December off the schedule would look more respectable. I don't know.
UNC doesn't have the impressive win on their resume that Kansas (Arizona, 9th in RPI), Memphis (also Arizona, and Georgetown), or UCLA (Michigan State, Washington State, and hell, in a couple of weeks they'll have played Arizona, too. We all realize Arizona's 10-5 and has lost to both Virginia and Herb Sendek, right?). It's not by design, and the conference season is the great revelator anyway. Don't put too much stock in December, there's a lot of basketball left to be played.
(Alas, the Georgia Tech game is not going to convince many people either. Tech's defense is very bad, they're prone to fouling and easy to score on. Not unlike with the Wolfpack, even a great performance won't impress, and playing down to the Yellow Jackets' level will just convince more folks that Carolina doesn't deserve the top spot.
Oh, and for kicks, here's Pomeroy's schedule ranks for the teams he talks about, split as he does into offensive and defensive strength:
Kansas 20 130 Memphis 14 111 UCLA 36 28 North Carolina 125 12 Duke 42 34