By: Keith Hartley
College basketball, and subsequently writing about college basketball, is a weird beast to try and tame. This is now my third complete re-write of this post and I still don’t think it’s that nothing but net late-game 3 pointer to turn the tide. This actually feels more like an accidental bank shot from the elbow but hey, you know what, that still counts as two points so let’s go with it and just keep the fact that I didn’t call bank to ourselves, OK? Thanks.
Since the last time we met, I made a bold claim about how the end of the regular season would play out for Carolina and it was looking spot on up until the pesky season finale at Cameron Indoor. As tough as losing to dook always is, it’s not entirely unexpected as this matchup is always the premier game of the college basketball calendar and the environment inside the stadium never disappoints. On the bright side, we were able to avenge both late season L’s in the ACC tournament as we handily beat Miami in Brooklyn and then topped dook by 74-69 in the semis. Then after that we had a slight run-in with the absolute best team in the nation right now but why are we mincing words about that, we beat DOOK!!!!
And now the best time of year is about to begin and as I mentioned a long time ago, success is all about expectations. My expectations for this team now are Final Four or bust, because someone smart stated awhile back that Roy Williams is one of the best teachers of basketball to college kids in the nation. This is another year where he has really proved that to be true as he has shaped and molded this team into the top #2 seed in the country. If you were just looking at talent on paper, there is zero chance this team should be ranked higher than dook and beat them twice, but as my dad always says, “There’s a reason you play the game!”
So before I dive into UNC’s road to the Final Four and what it potentially could look like, let’s play a little often used game called hot or not for our boys and their recent run of play.
Theo Pinson: If you watched more than three minutes of a Heels game in the ACC tournament, you couldn’t escape the talking heads gushing about how good Theo has played recently. Outside the UVA game where I think the grind of four games in four nights finally caught up to him, TP had been playing like a man on a mission. He has put on display his improved 3pt shooting as well as showcasing his (up until recently) much-underrated playmaking and distributing skills. This has especially allowed Joel to really focus more on solely his scoring rather than running the offense. The most impressive thing might be on the other end of the court as he’s played incredibly tough defense against the likes Wendall Carter Jr and Marvin Bagley all while giving up 4-5 inches and easily 30ish pounds on each.
Garrison Brooks: The stats might not necessarily show it but this man is close to being the sole reason why we topped dook in Brooklyn. He came in off the bench and defensively put the screws to one of the top players in the country and almost a for sure top-five draft pick come summer. Roy has always had a penchant for really getting the most out of the talent of his big guys and Garrison is now proving to now be an exception. Going forward, I wouldn’t mind seeing him in the starting lineup (this might be forced upon Roy anyways with Cam’s injury) especially against huge frontcourts like a dook.
NOT (Borat Voice)
Cam Johnson: His spot here is not solely based on the injury concerns, as since the Miami game his shooting and assertiveness have also been noticeably lacking in the last handful of games. He has bravely tried to play through the injuries but might have only exasperated them during a hard fall in the UVA game. You can take this with a grain of salt but I did notice during the selection Sunday live feed of UNC watching the unveiling of the brackets, he was the only player that didn’t jump out of his seat when they announced we’d be playing as a #2 seed in Charlotte. I really hope he rests up in these upcoming days and maybe even takes it easy in the first game. If our boys are going to make a deep run, we need a healthy Cam to be a sniper from 3pt range once again.
Both (Bonus Content)
Luke Maye: Boy has he had quite the roller coaster of performances to end the season. He had a 1-15, 2-pt clunker against Miami then came back with two strong games against two of the very best teams in the country. He had a stretch of a few so-so games at the end of conference play and even in the ACC tourney before he got back on track (especially with his distance shooting) and hopefully he can continue this for the next six games.
Road to the Final Four
Well, boys and girls, this is the moment we’ve all been waiting for, cue Coach Brooks speech from Miracle (I still get tears every time I watch that move, don’t @ me). Our road back to a potential third national championship game in a row is littered with potholes.
First weekend: Lipscomb should be a pretty easy victory come Friday but a Sunday game against either Providence or Texas A&M (hold onto your hats until my bracket release on Wednesday) could be a very tricky one as both of these teams have proven this year to have the tenacity and skill to knock off a top team like UNC.
Second Weekend: With the way Michigan played throughout the Big Ten tourney, it’s hard to see them not making it to the sweet sixteen but stranger things have certainly happened in March.
If it does fall this way, it would be a rematch from early in the season where UNC topped big blue by 15. Michigan is certainly a different team today than they were back then and they seem to be getting hot at the right time but I think UNC would still pull out this matchup.
If it does happen that Houston goes on a run and tops Michigan, that’s an even better matchup for the Heels. This would all lead to a possible rematch of last year’s national championship game in the Elite 8 against Gonzaga. There’s no doubt this would be an emotional game for the Zags to try to avenge their last game last year. If however, this bracket goes chalk, then we’re looking forward to a matchup against Xavier. And for my money, this is the #1 seed most likely to get upset early as they really haven’t beat any team of note besides Cinci early in the year. I will honestly say that the Zags would be a tougher Elite 8 matchup than Xavier.
Final Weekend: Ughh Final Four Matchup against Virginia UGHHHH!!! This is the one team I didn’t want to see until the championship game but alas here we are. I will say that it is very hard to beat the same team three times in a year but I really don’t see (*SPOILER ALERT*) Virginia losing at all this tournament. To say they are suffocating to play against is a vast understatement and they simply don’t allow teams enough breathing room to get hot or go on a streak. If by chance they do pull a miracle against UVA, the championship game would certainly be a relatively easier matchup but at that point, how much would our boys really have left in the tank?
Well, that is my quick breakdown of what a potential road back to the championship could look like for UNC but it’s March so you’re better off just throwing darts at your bracket than listening to me. Here’s to good darts and an office pool win for ya!
Keith is our go-to guy for North Carolina coverage. Catch up on Keith’s Carolina BBQ here.