Hold off on North Carolina as a contender

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Big things are expected out of North Carolina freshmen Harrison Barnes, Kendall Marshall and Reggie Bullock in 2010-11. Namely, to prevent the Tar Heels from another lackluster season that ends with a spot in the NIT.

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It’s an idea hoops pundits are embracing, too. Most preseason predictions have UNC somewhere in the Top 3 of the ACC standings, though improvements from John Henson and Larry Drew II will play a role.

Still, it’s Barnes & Co. who is drawing the most attention. But Dan Hanner warns against getting too hyped. Not because Barnes, Marshall and Bullock aren’t good. They are.

It’s just that North Carolina has more problems than they can solve. From Yet Another Basketball Blog:

Do not misunderstand what I am saying. As Luke Winn and others have shown, top 10 recruits are often difference makers on the court. But basketball is still a team game. To expect one player (Harrison Barnes) to catapult North Carolina into the top 10 is optimistic. The team still loses its best player in Ed Davis and one of its top scorers in Deon Thompson. If Harrison Barnes only replaces Ed Davis’ production, the team will be treading water. For North Carolina to get better, it is going to require that other players develop at a rapid pace. Can Larry Drew finally cut down on his turnovers? Can Tyler Zeller finally stay on the court?

So how will the Heels fare? Dan ran predicted efficiency ratings that takes into account key losses, key additions and how a team’s offense and defense will adjust. The Heels’ efficiency margin should be somewhere around 13.7, just ahead of Virginia and Wake Forest – and waaaay behind Duke. (Virginia Tech, Maryland and Clemson are 2,3 and 4.)

If Barnes can elevate the Heels back to the NCAA tournament and ACC contention, he’ll have earned his top-rated recruit status.

Mike Miller’s also on Twitter @BeyndArcMMiller, usually talkin’ hoops. Click here for more.