North Carolina beats Duke to win the ACC regular season title

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The question has to be asked.

How good is No. 13 UNC?

If it wasn’t for one dominating half by the kid that I think is the National Player of the Year, UNC would have won their last 13 games of the season, swept the Duke Blue Devils, and clinched the ACC regular season title before Saturday night’s 81-67 win. That’s impressive stuff.

Coming into tonight, the consensus seemed to be that North Carolina was a Final Four sleeper. And that consensus was correct. Harrison Barnes’ emergence has given them a legitimate 20 ppg scoring threat on the perimeter. Kendall Marshall may not be ideal for Roy Williams’ secondary break system, but he has proven to be a terrific passer and floor general. Tyler Zeller and John Henson don’t have the ideal strength and girth of a high-major front line, but they are both shot blockers that can run the floor and attack the offensive glass.

This team has all the pieces.

But they are no longer a Final Four sleeper.

This is a team that could play their way into a No. 2 seed with a good week in the ACC conference tournament. This is a team that is as hot as anyone in the country. This is a team whose on-court performance has finally reached the talent level that resides on their roster.

All of this started with the insertion of Kendall Marshall into the starting lineup. <a href=”http://www.crashingthedance.com/”>Crashing the Dance</a> did the legwork with the numbers for <a href=”http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2011/writers/luke_winn/03/03/power.rankings/index.html”>Luke Winn’s Power Rankings</a> this week. With Larry Drew starting, UNC scored an average of 1.04 PPP and allowed 0.90 PPP. With Marshall, those numbers are 1.09 PPP and 0.94 PPP. When you adjust for quality of opponent (Drew played against the non-conference portion of the schedule, Marshall strictly started tournament games), those numbers become 1.07 PPP/0.98 PPP for Drew an 1.10 PPP/0.96 PPP for Marshall.

In less numerical speak, Marshall makes UNC a better offensive team without costing them on the defensive end of the floor.

We saw it tonight. The Tar Heels got 15 points and 11 assists out of Marshall compared to just two turnovers. They scored 1.17 PPP and allowed Duke just 0.99 PPP. UNC shot 52.4% from the floor and Duke shot just 35.5%.

The Tar Heels are legit.

Make sure your bracket recognizes it.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.