If you recall way back in October the ACC released the media predictions for the 2012-13 basketball season. Those predictions, which are often worthless the moment they come out, had UNC tabbed to finish 3rd behind NC State and Duke. It was a fairly reasonable prediction given UNC's personnel and the question marks on the interior and at point guard.
Fast forward a few months and we find UNC is sitting exactly where the media thought they would be. So is Duke for that matter and Georgia Tech. Everything else was out of whack. In UNC's case, not only did the Tar Heels finish 3rd in the ACC, but they did by winning all the games they were supposed to win and losing ones to teams within two spots of them on either side.
vs #1 Miami and #2 Duke: 0-4
vs #4 Virginia and #5 NC State: 2-2
vs #6-12: 10-0
While it is generally acknowledged the ACC is weak this season, UNC does get some credit for not wrecking their record by losing to any of the bottom seven teams in the league. What's more, UNC played the toughest schedule by far. The Tar Heels played two games each against seven of the top nine teams in the ACC with only one game each against #8 Boston College, #10 Wake Forest, #11 Clemson and #12 Virginia Tech. So while the ACC is not a great conference, UNC did handle the bottom of the league, split with the two teams immediately below them and got swept by the two teams above them. In an ideal world, stealing at least one from the teams above you is preferable. It didn't work out that way but still there is something to be said for taking care of business when UNC was the better team on the floor.
Obviously in the context of UNC's long history, such a season is never going to distinguish itself. It also is the prerogative of Tar Heels fans to not simply be satisfied with 3rd place finishes in a weak ACC. That being said, it is okay to accept this past regular season as an appropriate outcome given the hand that was dealt in terms of personnel. During ACC play there were three embarrassing losses and three others were UNC simply came up short. There were games UNC didn't play well against the lower echelon of the league but managed to find a way to win. The same was true of Duke and Miami but in the case of the latter, the Canes did stumble against the likes of Wake Forest and Georgia Tech.
The bottom line is the regular season played out about like we thought it would with perhaps too many blowout losses for most folks' taste. Obviously the lineup change was a big catalyst in salvaging a 6-2 mark down the stretch. You could argue changing it sooner may have garnered a better record but seeing that four of UNC's six ACC losses came on the road versus the #1, #2, #4 and #5 teams in the league, I am not convinced. In other words, second guessing is pointless especially since UNC still has a chance to do something memorable. That's the beauty of the college basketball postseason. UNC met the expectations in the regular season but has the opportunity to exceed a new set of them in postseason play.