The one word that best described the North Carolina women's basketball team last season? Exciting.
That's because the Tar Heels -- ranked 10th in ESPN.com's preseason top 25 poll -- were and continue to be the fastest team in the country, coach Sylvia Hatchell says. They play an up-tempo running style and return their top three scorers and four of their top five scorers from last year's team that averaged 79.4 points per game, which ranked second nationally.
Because of the team's speed, North Carolina causes a lot of matchup problems for opposing defenses. And because they're so quick, the Tar Heels also led the nation in steals last season at 14.0 per game (the next closest was Birmingham Southern's 13.0).
That said, UNC sometimes plays a little too fast and out of control. This season, point guard Ivory Latta needs to make sure that doesn't continue to happen. Latta was a third-team All-American last season and the team's leading scorer. She is a good 3-point shooter -- really the team's only 3-point threat, which means long-range shooting looks to be a weakness for UNC -- and the team's heart and soul.
The team graduated Nikita Bell, the ACC Defensive Player of the Year, and this season's starting lineup will be shifted around slightly and will include freshman Rashanda McCants, sister of former UNC men's star Rashad McCants. She is a very balanced player who will be the small forward. Sometimes statistics can be deceiving, but McCants had not one, but two quadruple-doubles last season in high school.
Erlana Larkins will be the primary low-post scorer and second scoring option. She is one of the top players in the country at her position. Camille Little will be the third scoring option for the Tar Heels.
UNC is very versatile and very athletic and -- with Larkins, Little and McCants -- has multiple scoring options every game. The Tar Heels also are very young, with only one senior (La'Tangela Atkinson) who will play significant minutes, so Hatchell's team could be even better next year. But the team is good enough to contend this season.
How good? How's this for a little perspective? This year's likely No. 1 team, Duke, had beaten UNC 12 straight times entering last season. Duke went 31-5 last season. Three of those losses came at the hands of North Carolina. And if the Tar Heels can beat the Blue Devils, they can beat anyone.
Peter Newmann is the college basketball researcher for ESPN. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.