It's a college tradition - win a big game and students storm the floor. At the end of a climactic UNC victory over Duke to clinch the ACC regular season race, a hyped Smith Center crowd took the floor in jubilation. But no sooner had the celebration begun than the Twitterverse and message boards began to explode with criticism of the Carolina faithful for their celebration. The derision came from pundits, bloggers, and ABCers alike as if rushing the court had somehow demeaned the game.
It is a curse of being a college basketball blueblood that your school is supposed to win with such regularity that storming the court is an unnecessary act. It's what happens when someone beats you, not when you beat somebody. The college basketball elite, like UNC, are somehow supposed to be above that, they would seem to be saying.
Not all pundits and bloggers were critical of Heels fans' reaction to the game. Many rightfully pointed out the intensity of the UNC-Duke rivalry, or the fact that these are college kids and that's what college kids do. But those justifications are just as off-base as those who would criticize Carolina fans for storming the court at all. Both groups are missing the point.
I think it is difficult for people outside Carolina fandom to understand what the last 23 months have been like, and just how bitter the taste of the 2010 season was. In April of 2009, UNC was celebrating its second national title in 5 years and a dynasty seemed to be in the offing. That fall, Roy Williams and UNC stole Harrison Barnes from Duke and the sky seemed to be the limit for Carolina basketball. Then that sky fell and 2010 happened.
The fall from grace of the Carolina basketball program cannot be understated. From NCAA champs to a dysfunctional bunch of misfits in less than one season. Meanwhile, your most hated rivals fill your vacuum and seem to sweep past you in one fell swoop. Then player transfers, followed by player dismissals, followed by limping out out of the gate to a 4-3 start, and suddenly UNC is looking for its identity in the college basketball universe once again.
But from the ashes of 2010, UNC suddenly rose again. With most of the restrainers removed, the final cancer was excised with the departure of Larry Drew and the Tar Heels finally put it all together. Defeating Duke and denying them the ACC title had been conceded to them weeks prior was doubly sweet. Dexter Strickland's dunk was the punctuation on one of the most amazing turnarounds the ACC has ever seen.
So yes, storming the court may have been overkill. But it was also symbolic of the exorcism of all the pain of the 2010 season, and of the lowered expectations of earlier this season. It is strangely symbolic that in the chaos of that celebration was the fact that order had been restored in the Carolina basketball universe.
Now on to the fun of the postseason!