The 2008-2009 college basketball season began with the national pundits crowning the North Carolina Tar Heels national champions, awarding them the first-ever unanimous No. 1 ranking in the preseason Associated Press poll. The Tar Heels were the head of the class, better than the middling field of competitors who could only hope to jockey for national runner-up.
On Monday evening, the Tar Heels brought Chapel Hill its fifth NCAA Championship. The manner in which they did left little doubt that they were the best team in the field.
They defeated every opponent by at least 12 points, trailing in the second half only to LSU. In the second halves of the other five games, no team came within five points of the Tar Heels.
Since the Heels so thoroughly dominated each and every opponent in the NCAA Tournament, it seems appropriate to compare the Heels successes to recent tournament champions—statistically of course. (The tempo-free statistics on Ken Pomeroy's site only reach back to 2004, so this comparison will unfortunately be somewhat short-sighted)
A quick glimpse at the final scores of the last six champions shows that only two were able to avoid close games entirely. The 2009 UNC team was the only one to win every game by double digits.
North Carolina didn't play the best offense or defense of the last six champions; those honors belong to the 2007 Florida Gators (123.3 OE) and the 2006 Florida Gators (89.4 DE). However, the Heels' efficiency margin, the difference between the offensive and defensive efficiency, was the highest among the group at 26.0. Since UNC posted the highest efficiency margin it is appropriate that they also posted the highest average victory margin of the six teams, nearly 20 points per game.
Within the four factors, one main statistic stands out about the Tar Heels' 2009 NCAA Championship. UNC ranked below average of the past champions on both sides of the ball for shooting (eFG%), rebounding (OR%) and free throws (FTR). The remaining factor, turnovers, is where the tournament was won.
North Carolina only turned the ball over on 13.7 percent of their offensive possessions while forcing turnovers on 20.8 percent of their opponents' possessions. At 75 possessions per game, by far the highest among recent tournament champs, that amounts to over five more turnovers forced than committed for the Heels.
Taking better care of the basketball and forcing more turnovers is what set this UNC team's NCAA tournament run apart from recent champions and is likely the main cause of the Heels' dominating wins. North Carolina played with both offensive and defensive intensity throughout the tournament, vindicating the experts by reaching their full potential and showing that they truly were the head of the class.