“I think they’ve got the best team in the country,” Miami head coach Frank Haith said. “I think they are very talented. They lose Brandan Wright, but they have Deon Thompson.
“They have Tyler [Hansbrough], a first-team All-American, in the low post, and then maybe one of the top-two point guards in the league in Ty Lawson. I’m sure [Wayne] Ellington has made great strides, and they have a Hall of Fame coach. There’s no reason to believe that they don’t have a chance to cut down nets.”
Virginia preseason All-ACC selection Sean Singletary knows a thing or two about the Tar Heels as well – his Cavs’ squad tied North Carolina for first place in the regular season in 2006-07.
“I think they are a talented team,” the senior point guard said. “They’ve got one of the best coaches in America – one of the best coaches of all-time, no doubt. They’re obviously going to be one of the better teams in the league, and one of the better teams in the country… They’re going to be tough. They’re a traditional powerhouse. It is what it is – you know that you’re going to get the best from them.”
Hansbrough and Lawson were both selected to the preseason All-ACC team, as they are expected to guide the Tar Heels to the conference championship and beyond. Lawson demonstrated remarkable consistency during his freshman campaign, leading the league in assist-turnover ratio (2.57 to 1) and finishing third in assists per game (5.6).
“Tywon’s a great player,” Boston College point guard Tyrese Rice said. “I’ve been playing against Tywon since I was about 10 years old, and I’ve watched him grow. He just developed so quick and he got really good really fast. I think he’s going to be one of the top point guards in the nation, and I don’t think he’s going to let anybody down.”
Hansbrough’s success has been well-documented. The junior post player is the first Tar Heel to earn consecutive first-team All-America honors since Antawn Jamison in 1997 and 1998, and the Poplar Bluff, Mo. native is on pace to become UNC’s all-time leading scorer and one of the top rebounders in the program’s illustrious history. But it’s about more than statistics when it comes to Pyscho-T.
“That dude is a beast,” Virginia Tech head coach Seth Greenberg said. “He’s just relentless. The time, the score, the game, the opponent – they don’t mean anything to him. He’s just going to keep on coming at you.
“His work ethic is second-to-none. He’s just extremely competitive and he’s tough, and he doesn’t get affected by any of the static, whether it’s expectations [or] whether it’s a big game – he just plays.”
North Carolina was voted the media’s preseason pick for an ACC-record 17th time, six more than archrival Duke. N.C. State’s Gavin Grant said having strong programs, like the Tar Heels, in the Triangle area makes for more excitement on game day.
“You definitely get pumped up to play against the Carolina’s and the Duke’s,” Grant said. “It’s just fun playing against guys just down the road. The fans love it.”
And Grant’s head coach, Sydney Lowe, believes that having an elite program as his primary rival has paid dividends on the recruiting trail.
“It’s definitely beneficial – absolutely,” Lowe said. “When you can say that you are right down the road from a University like that with a coach like that, with their tradition and their history… to me, that’s a drawing card, because if I’m one of the top players in the country, I’m going to look at that and say, ‘Okay, that’s who I want to play against.’”
The Tar Heels will put their opponents’ praise and high expectations to the test when their ACC regular season tips off at Clemson on Jan. 6, 2008.