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Why Can't Johnny Win Three Games in March?

Roy Williams arrived at UNC with the label - unfairly given, in my view even at the time - of being unable to win a championship. The second year of his tenure, of course, he did just that, silencing all of his critics and cementing his position as one of the top coaches of his time. But there's one mountain he still hasn't conquered. He's yet to win an ACC Tournament.

Carolina's drought since they last cut down the nets the second weekend in March now stands at eight years, tied for the longest in Tar Heel history.* Now that streak encompasses the last two years under Bill Guthridge and the three of Doherty's stint (and includes four years of being knocked out by Duke, especially galling) but the last three years UNC has continued to underachieve in the conference tournament losing to 4th-seeded Georgia Tech (as a #5), 5th-seeded Georgia Tech (as a #1) and 3rd-seeded Boston College (as a #2). Williams is 2-3 in three years of the tournament.

You hear a lot of hate towards conference tournaments of late, and how it's smarter to lose early and get the extended rest for the NCAA's. And the 2005 loss to Georgia Tech did go a long way in motvating that year's team to the national championship. But I can't think of losing in the ACC tourney as a strategic move, and I doubt Williams does either, despite his "cocktail party" comments of years past. He did win the first three Big XII tournament titles (1997-99) although he failed to win another in the remainder of his time at Kansas.

So do the conference tournaments mean less to players now? The media focus this weeek is entirely on the NCAA selection, and winning the weekend's games is only considered important if you're a bubble team. It is the hardest stretch of basketball of the year - three or four games in as many days against stiff competition on legs exhausted from a long season. None of the last three Tar Heel teams have looked particularly distraught over their arly exits, and it wasn't until Williams got the 2005 team back to Chapel Hill that he ran them into the necessary mindsight to win the title.

But it still means something to the fans, and this year the bracket lines up to Carolina's distinct advantage. It's their best opportunity to win a title and cut down some nets outside of the Dean Dome for once. So if anyone needs motivation, I can provide some: 2004, 2005 and 2006.

* The previous eight year gap ran from Frank McGuire's only title with the 1957 championship team until Smith's first, in 1967. The Heels were on probation in 1961, so that's only eight tournaments without a win. The next longest drought is six (1982 until 1989).