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ROY WILLIAMS'S TWO NATIONAL TITLES IN CHAPEL HILL WERE won with diminutive, speed-burning, scoring point guards: Raymond Felton in 2005; and Ty Lawson in '09. The sophomore floor general at the helm of the Tar Heels' latest contender, Kendall Marshall, fits none of those descriptions. He is taller (at 6' 4"), not particularly fleet afoot and of a different mind-set. "Kendall is a throwback," Williams says. "When we were recruiting him, I said, 'I'm probably the only person who's old enough to remember this, but you remind me of Lenny Wilkens'—a savvy, sneaky, crafty kind of point guard. He's a big-time quarterback who thinks pass as his first, second and third option."
That approach makes Marshall the perfect leader for a team that boasts the nation's best frontcourt, including a Wooden Award candidate in small forward Harrison Barnes. UNC's 2010--11 season was briefly marred by a point guard controversy—veteran Larry Drew II, the original starter, left the team after being benched in February—but Marshall responded by piloting the Heels to an ACC title, posting a 2.5-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. Barnes, a pure scorer who averaged 15.9 points in ACC play, benefited most from that change. While Williams criticized the media for "unfairly" saddling Barnes with a preseason first-team All-America label as a freshman, the coach now says his star "has a chance to become one of those truly special players and one of the most complete players in college basketball."
The rest of the frontcourt complement one another nicely. Seven-footer Tyler Zeller is skilled around the rim and is Marshall's favorite target on long, fast-break passes. "I've never seen a point guard who's able to throw it so consistently to me in stride," Zeller says. Power forward John Henson is a force on the offensive glass, and freshman James Michael McAdoo (Bob's cousin) is a skilled, 6' 9" hybrid three-four.
The Tar Heels passed on the NBA draft, en masse, so they could chase a championship, and they should open 2011--12 atop every poll. Marshall is accustomed to hype; nine years ago he was tabbed the nation's No. 1--ranked fifth-grader. "It takes a certain kind of player to handle that kind of pressure," Marshall says, and he seems confident and seasoned enough to quarterback Carolina to a national title.
COACH Roy Williams (8th year) 225--62 (91--37 in ACC)
ASSISTANTS Jerod Haase, C.B. McGrath, Steve Robinson
2010--11 RECORD 29--8 (14--2, 1st in ACC)
FINAL AP RANK 7