by David Cassilo / @dcassilo

When Harrison Barnes was named a preseason All-American last fall, the furthest thought from anyone’s mind was that he would spend more than one season in Chapel Hill. However, the surefire lottery pick announced his intentions on Monday to return to North Carolina for his sophomore season.

The word “bust” was whispered around Barnes early into freshman season when he failed to score in double-figures in six of his first 15 games with North Carolina. Down the stretch, though, Barnes became the go-to-guy for Roy Williams’ team. He scored at least 18 points in nine of his final 10 games, including a 40-point performance against Clemson in the semifinals of the ACC tournament.

Barnes’ return has North Carolina pegged as an early favorite for the 2012 NCAA title.

From the Charlotte Observer:

“As a team, we’re preparing for a special season. My off-season plans are to diligently work on honing my basketball skills in all areas with one team-goal in mind — to bring the 2012 national championship home to UNC,” Barnes said.

Barnes joins fellow returning starters, John Henson, Tyler Zeller,Dexter Strickland and Kendall Marshall, as well as top recruits P.J. Hairston and James McAdoo, the MVP of both the McDonald’s All-American game and the Jordan Classic.

His return also further weakens a draft class that has already seen Jared Sullinger and Perry Jones announce that they were returning for their sophomore seasons.