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UNC Basketball: Joel Berry is the best point guard in the nation

Berry will be a man on a mission in 2018.

Gonzaga v North Carolina Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Joel Berry ain’t done yet.

Fresh off a national championship, Berry’s senior year is shaping up to be something special. As in, if things all come together the way they’re looking like they will, Berry could have one of the best seasons a point guard has ever had at UNC.

That’s quite the claim, but it’s been backed up. ESPN would have him as starting point guard on their hypothetical college basketball super team. NBC Sports ranked Berry as second team All-American in their preseason predictions. More lists will be released in the coming months; expect Berry to be near the top of them all. And as he should be—Berry is now a champion, the Final Four Most Outstanding Player, and undisputed leader of this UNC team.

It’s time to get hyped.

It’s exciting, thinking of how dominant Berry was at times in 2017 and how we’re still in for one last ride. Berry’s journey for greatness has been fulfilled—now, it’s about sustaining that greatness. You should expect no less from him in 2018. If Berry puts together a Cousy Award-winning year, he’ll have a strong case for best point guard in a very, very long history of great point guards at Carolina. He’ll be as determined as ever. You best buckle up now.

It’s the offseason, so, in case you haven’t seen him play in a month or two and need a refresher, here are the highlights of his legendary performance against Duke.

That is a bad, bad man right there. 28 points, 9-14 from the field and 5-5 from three. On that big of a stage, there have been few performances by a Tar Heel as backbreaking as his. And it’s not like those shots he hit were easy—Duke was trying to suffocate him all night, but they simply had no answers for the greatness of Joel Berry. Heck, no team in America has much of an answer for Joel Berry, not with that much speed, that much skill, and that much of a desire to beat you.

This is what Berry is capable of, night in and night out. Of course, he won’t have to put the team on his back every game like he did against Duke, but he’s there if you need it. UNC will be one of only a handful of teams in the country with that kind of player in 2018. It comes down to his competitive fire, to that term of endearment that Roy Williams has assigned him—he’s a tough lil’ nut. Refused to be hampered by his size or sore ankles, Berry will go farther than the opponent will to win. Hobbling for most of the Elite Eight and the entire Final Four, Berry was the one who scored 22 points and hit four three-pointers in the national championship. That was just guts—guts and greatness.

That’s not to say that anyone is writing in Berry as the ultimate UNC point guard just yet. He’ll need to stay healthy if he’s going to be the one to retire that #2 jersey. That also leads to the issue of Berry’s consistency, often chalked up to his eternally sprained ankles. For as great as Berry was at times, he was equally as cold at others. He scored in single digits ten times in 2016-17, dropping his points per game down to 14.7. Three of those games accounted for losses—the wins you could attribute to Justin Jackson, Kennedy Meeks, and company picking up the slack, but the Heels don’t have that luxury anymore. Berry’s the man, now. He must be able to show it.

There is not a single point guard in the country who can go toe-to-toe with Joel Berry. Kansas’ Devonte’ Graham and Villanova’s Jalen Brunson are the only ones who hold a candle to Berry, but they don’t mean as much to their teams as Berry does. Throughout the postseason, either from his play or his absence, Berry proved last year that he is Carolina’s life and blood. That trend will continue, and as long as he stays healthy, we could be in for something really, really special out of Joel Berry in 2018.