Staff photo by Robert Willett
If the point wasn't bludgeoned home with a 98-63 win over the alleged 13th-best team in the country on a neutral site, UNC's the best team in college basketball.
By a mile, actually make that 11 because the reality of the talent-depleted state of college basketball is the second-best team is Duke.
College basketball titles aren't won in December but the UNC-Duke order is crystal clear after three events this week, oddly two of them involving the Big Ten, which hasn't been relevant since UNC's last national title in 2005.
1) The severity of UNC's win
That was not Michigan State-Uppper Peninsula, that was the actual Spartans that UNC beat by 35 points on a neutral site.
To be sure, Michigan State, which lost to Maryland by 18 last week, is not in 2000 form, Tom Izzo's national title team, or even the 2005 version, which lost to UNC at the Final Four, but 35 points is 35 points.
More importantly, was where the game was played — the same site as the Final Four.
Given UNC's history of shooting problems and stage fright in domes, playing at Ford Field gives the Heels a certain comfort level come April if they return.
2) Duke's win at Purdue
Duke won another ACC-Big Ten Challenge. So what?
Well, Purdue with its muscle was supposed to be the end of the Devils' perfect record in the series, especially with the game on Purdue's home court.
What happened? Duke won by 16 with only two points from Gerald Henderson.
3) UConn's 68-64 win over Buffalo
Buffalo? Buffalo? UNC's beating Michigan State by 35, Kentucky by 19 and Notre Dame by 15 and the No. 2 team in the country can't roll Buffalo?
One close call to a bad team does not a season make but UConn has something else working against it — the Obvious Factor.
When Dick Vitale is pointing out the parallels between this season and 1999, as he was during Wednesday's UNC broadcast, Fonzi's on the water skis.
The popular notion, as espoused by Vitale, is UNC is the 1999 version Duke, the ultra-dominant team (37-1 going into the title game and 19-0 in the ACC) that loses in the title game. UConn is reprising its role as UConn.
Except two important facts overlooked from that UConn upset: UConn was 32-2 going into the title game and UConn had great guards.
The current Huskies might run up an equally impressive record, although unlikely given Thursday's struggle with Buffalo, but I promise you there's no Rip Hamilton on the current roster, or Kevin Freeman, or even Khalid El-Amin.
UConn won't be the team that ends UNC's season because if UNC gets to Detroit it's over.
The only way UNC doesn't win the national title is if it loses in the East Regional in Boston (the first two rounds are in Greensboro, it's not necessary for me to rehash UNC's dominance in the state of North Carolina is it?)
And it's going to take more than a Harold "The Show" Arceneaux to knock out the Heels. Notre Dame's Kyle McAlarney scored 39 in Maui and couldn't keep the Irish in spitting distance of the Heels.
It's going to take Arceneaux, Stephen Curry and McAlarney going off. In short, a repeat of 1997 when Roy Williams' No. 1-ranked Kansas team, an overwhelming pre-tournament favorite, lost to a hot-shooting, guard-heavy Arizona team in the Sweet 16.
Is there an Arizona out there?
Who can hit bunches of 3s and out-shoot the Heels? Hmmm, one ACC team did it on Feb. 6. Pittsburgh and Gonzaga (I know, I know) might the be only other two teams capable.
Bottom line, UNC's talented and experienced and its talent, notably Ty Lawson and Deon Thompson, improved over the summer.
While everyone else in college basketball is losing its top-end talent — pick a missing NBA star from the Classes of 2005 (what if Andrew Bynum, ranked two spots behind Hansbrough was in his fourth season at UConn?), '06 (Kevin Durant at Texas or Greg Oden at Ohio State) or '07 (Derrick Rose at Memphis, Kevin Love at UCLA) — the Tar Heels are the only program to retain their McDonald's All-Americans.
It's UNC and no one else is in its class.