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Off the cuff: The question at the first of the 2009 season was how could a 36-3 team from 2008 improve. This 2009 team didn't quite have as good a record since this year's Heels finished 34-4. So, the Tar Heels, using better defense, did the only thing they could do to improve and get redemption from the loss to Kansas in the Final Four last year - they won the NCAA tournament.

The Tar Heels did it in style as they beat every opponent by double figures and had perhaps the best half of basketball in the history of the NCAA finals in the first half against Michigan St. The highlight of the welcome home celebration may very well have been Danny Green when he said, "We did it y'all, we did it. But the way we did it though, did you see how we did it?" The crowd went wild.

As one of about 75 people watching the UNC plane land, I started wondering if I might be watching another piece of history - a disaster. You see, the plane approached for a landing but started wiggling back and forth and suddenly the wheels went back it and the plane went back up. The aborted landing came about due to high winds. The plane circled around and landed a few minutes later coming in from the other direction.

At the first of the season, UNC coach Roy Williams said the best Tar Heel teams he had ever seen were 1982, 1984, 2005 and 2008. This 2009 team certainly joins that list. "If I'm lucky enough to coach another 20 years," Coach Williams said at the welcome home celebration, "it's gonna be awfully hard for kids to give me the memories that this club did. But I will always remember, not just the wins, but the fun, the laughs and I'll remember how lucky Roy Williams was to be their coach."

This group of seniors, led by Tyler Hansbrough and Danny Green, have more wins than any senior class in UNC history.

It seems to be a foregone conclusion that Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington will be going pro and foregoing their senior year. I wouldn't be terribly surprised if Ellington stayed. How many ACC players have turned pro after their junior season without making the first, second or even third team All-ACC team? He had a great tournament, no doubt, so we'll have to see where he might go in the draft.

Some are indicating that Ed Davis might turn pro. While I think it was a mistake for Marvin Williams to turn pro after his freshman season, he averaged five more minutes a game and five more points a game than Davis. So, certainly Davis, who will play in the pros one day, should stay in school. He says he will.

Carolina has gotten a lot of good publicity over the fact that Hansbrough, Green, Lawson and Ellington all stayed in school last year. Hansbrough especially has been rightly praised. I hope this starts a trend of guys staying in school longer though I doubt it.

Doug Gottlieb, ESPN analyst, and some others have minimized Hansbrough's accomplishments and reject placing him among all-time college basketball elites because he says it's a down year for college basketball due to defections to the NBA. Does he really think that during his four years, Hansbrough played more inferior players than 7-foot-2 Lew Alcindor did in 1968? There were very few players even over 6-foot-8 back then. Hansbrough played against better players and deserves to be mentioned in the same category as Alcindor, Walton, Robertson and the rest. I still say the two best colllege players I ever saw were Phil Ford and David Thompson but Hansbrough is certainly in the conversation. Alcindor, of course, was dominating but going up against players so much smaller, he should have been.

Others, for the same reasons, are refusing to place this year's Carolina team among the top 10-15 teams of all time despite the overwhelming performance in the tournament. I'd have to study it more but to dismiss them out of hand is a mistake. The 2009 Carolina team should be in the conversation as a top 15 all-time team but they probably had too many regular season losses (4) to be considered much higher.

In the preseason, the ACC writers picked the final finish order as North Carolina, Duke, Wake Forest, Miami, Clemson, Virginia Tech, Maryland, Georgia Tech, N.C. State, Florida State, Boston College and Virginia. My finish had Clemson flipped ahead of Miami and Florida State ahead of N.C. State. Both those things came true so I'll toot my horn that my poll was better. For the record, the final standings were North Carolina, Duke and Wake Forest, Florida State, Clemson and Boston College, Maryland and Virginia Tech and Miami, N.C. State, Virginia, and Wake Forest.

While my NCAA bracket was average, it was at least as good as President Obama's who also picked Carolina to win it all. If someone complains that Roy Williams is making too much money - even more than the president in 2009 - just paraphrase Babe Ruth and say, "Coach Williams is having a better year."

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Heel Yeah!

Roy Williams emerges from plane with trophy.
UNC coach Roy Williams steps off the plane with the NCAA tournament trophy
and nets as Tyler Hansbrough, dressed in all black, awaits him. (Photo by C. Barnes)

NCAA Finals: Heels 89, Spartans 72
Heel Yeah! Carolina wins national title

The North Carolina Tar Heels used a record-breaking 55-point first half to do what many expected they would do at the start of the season - win the national championship. After beating Michigan State 89-72, it's clear that UNC is the best team in college basketball in 2009. (4/6)

Carolina got out to a big early lead, working it up to 24, before going in at halftime with a 55-34 advantage. The 55 points broke the record for most points in a half in a national championship game and the 21-point margin was also the largest in history.

Wayne Ellington scored 17 of his 19 points in the first half, including going three-of-three from behind the arc, on his way to being named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player. "We just wanted to redeem ourselves," Ellington said referring to the loss to Kansas last season in the Final Four. "This team went through so much adversity this season and it feels so good."

Ty Lawson led the way for the Tar Heels with 21 points, six assists and a record-setting eight steals.

"We didn't want to start like we did last year against Kansas," Lawson said of the quick start. "I didn't even realize all the records though."

Tyler Hansbrough (18 points), who has set many records and is already considered one of the best players in college basketball history, showed more emotion than he has in all his four years in a Tar Heel uniform.

"This is the best way to go out," he said. "I couldn't picture it any other way."

Hansbrough, after being named the Player of the Year last year, came back for his senior season because he pictured it this way. "It seems I made a pretty good decision," Hansbrough said about coming back. "Nothing beats this feeling right here."

He first showed the rare emotion when UNC coach Roy Williams took Hansbrough and the other starters out with 1:03 to go and the Heels up by 17.

Hansbrough made a beeline to the coaches, hugging each one, starting with Williams, and then slung his fist in the air. "I wouldn't take 10 million dollars for the feeling I had at that moment," Williams said. "I desperately wanted this championship for that young man."

After the final horn, Hansbrough sprinted to midcourt and grabbed Marcus Ginyard, the injured Tar Heel in street clothes, and hopped up and down with him, yelling and laughing and smiling.

Carolina, which was booed heartily by the partisan Michigan State crowd in the 72,000 seat Ford Field in Detroit as the players ran on the court prior to the game, nearly silenced the 60,000 or so Spartan fans with a powerful performance out of the gate. With less than five minutes gone, the Heels already had a double-digit advantage at 15-5 following a swished three by Ellington.

A spinning turnaround jumper by Deon Thompson upped the lead to 24-8 with less than seven minutes gone. A Hansbrough bucket midway through the half put Carolina up by 20 at 31-11. With 8:35 to go, Hansbrough hit Ed Davis on a give-and-go layup to give the Heels a 36-13 lead.

An Ellington three with five minutes left in the half gave the Tar Heels their largest lead of the game at 46-22. Carolina shot 55 percent in the half and took advantage of 14 Michigan State turnovers, scoring 17 points off those turnovers.

Both teams had trouble scoring in the second half as the game became slower and foul plagued. The Spartans went more than six minutes with only one field goal while Carolina started the half hitting only three of its first 13 shots. A Danny Green three got the Heels out of the shooting doldrums and pushed the lead to 19 at 65-46.

The lead stayed between 15-20 points for most of the second half although Michigan State trimmed it to 13 at 76-63 with less than five minutes to go. But the Heels got the margin back up to 19 after UNC senior Bobby Frasor stole a pass and went the length of the court for a layup to make it 84-65 with 2:25 left.

The win completes the Heels' season at 34-4 and results in the school's fifth national championship. The other titles were in 1957, 1982, 1993 and 2005.

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© 2008 CB3media Cary, NC

Heel Prints reviewed each UNC game
As a student sports editor years ago, prior to the season, Clifton Barnes predicted a national championship for the Tar Heels and indeed they won. In fact he wrote his lede paragraph for the national championship game almost a year early. He regrets that he didn't keep a journal after each game. While he didn't predict a championship this season, he did have those same feelings. He kept a journal after each game of the 2007-2008 season and you can reach them here. He recently completed writing about UNC's baseball season and wrote an analysis after each 2008 UNC football game.