Changing the equation

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Got a text from an editor as I drove home last night informing me that North Carolina center Tyler Hansbrough was injured and out indefinitely.

There was plenty on Al Gore’s Invention about the senior’s stress reaction, including this bit from Robbi Pickeral of the Raleigh News & Observer.

Now, Hansbrough could be back fairly quickly. But with the preseason AP poll due out later today – and Carolina likely to be a convincing No. 1 – it’s fair to wonder just where the Tar Heels would rank without both Hansbrough and Marcus Ginyard, who is also hurt but expected back before conference play arrives (if not sooner).

Without its dominant big, the Tar Heels would turn to Deon Thompson and freshmen Tyler Zeller and Ed Davis to man the middle. For the fun of it, let’s say Carolina would have a Ty Lawson-Wayne Ellington-Danny Green-Thompson-Zeller lineup. The top reserves (in the short-term) would be Davis, Larry Drew, Bobby Frasor and Will Graves.

That’s still a good team. It’s probably a top-10 team. It might be better than Duke, thus keeping it atop the ACC.

But better than Louisville? Than Connecticut? Than Pittsburgh, Michigan State, UCLA and Texas?

Maybe one or two of those teams. But certainly not all.

Take Hansbrough away on paper, and you get two remarkable truths. One is the obvious; remove a national player of the year and suddenly a team is much less fearsome.

But Carolina is still loaded, even if it wouldn’t be the nation’s best squad sans Hansbrough. Just the possibility the Tar Heels would be on par with Texas (which brought back pretty much everyone other than D.J. Augustin) without two of their starters speaks volumes about just how good they could be at full strength this season.

Patrick Stevens

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