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The North Carolina women's basketball team has had huge expectations this year, and has only surpassed them.
Picked first in the pre-season Atlantic Coast Conference poll, the Tar Heels enter this year's NCAA tournament at home, healthy, and ready to roll. UNC (27-2, 15-1 ACC) is enjoying its first-ever No. 1 seed in the NCAA draw to go along with the regular season and tournament ACC championships.
The Tar Heels have big game experience this season. They are 7-1 against ranked opponents, and are coming off a romp through the talent-laden ACC post-season tournament. Additionally, this year's squad has two starters from the 1994 NCAA Championship team.
Furthermore, UNC has lost only once since Christmas, amassing a 20-1 record over the period.
Individually, this team was greatly bolstered by the return of redshirt junior Marion Jones, whose 18.8 points-per-game have taken some of the heat off ACC leading-scorer Tracy Reid (20.7 ppg).
Sophomore forward Chanel Wright has added 42 three-point shots on the year, and senior point guard Lori Gear adds consistency and ball control to the offense.
The Tar Heels are blindingly quick. They led the ACC in steals (13.2) and turnover margin (7.3), led by Marion Jones' 3.6 steals per game.
Jones, in fact, took a redshirt last year to concentrate on training for the U.S. Olympic team, where she hoped to compete in sprints and the long jump. Although injury ultimately derailed the efforts, athleticism is not one of the Tar Heels weaknesses.
UNC has balanced scoring, respectable 45 percent shooting from the floor and aggressive defense that has held its opponents to under 40 percent shooting on the year.
The Tar Heels don't allow much in the way of second-chance points, either--they have outrebounded opponents by nearly eight boards per contest. Fittingly, UNC also possesses the conference's leading rebounder in 5-11 forward Reid, who is pulling down 10.0 rebounds per game.
If the Tar Heels have a weakness, it is probably on the blocks. Without a dominating post-player, UNC could struggle if it faces a team with a huge front line. The Tar Heels stack up only 5-11, 6-0, 6-4 across the front.
Additionally, 6-4 junior center Sheneika Walker averages only 17 minutes per game, and is susceptible to foul trouble, further weakening the Tar Heels' interior presence.
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