Eleven years ago, give or take a week, UNC fans were in an uproar. North Carolina, despite winning the ACC Regular Season and being generally regarded as one of the two best teams in the country, was "rewarded" with a 1-seed and what appeared to be an incredibly difficult draw. The 2-seed in Carolina's region was the defending national champion, and team UNC had beaten earlier in the season, UConn, who despite the losses of Okafor and Gordon, still had a roster full of future pros. UNC's 3-seed was Kansas, because, well... of course it was, and the 4th seeded team was the up and coming Florida Gators, who would go on to win both the 2006 and 2007 National Titles.
So if you are doing the math, this one region contained the entirety of a four-year stretch of National Champions; it was the epitome of brutal. Not surprisingly, most of the pundits took the bait and gleefully started picking against the Tar Heels, a team that was clearly talented, but also had a ton of questions; and to be fair, a lot of those questions were warranted. The Heels were only 3 years removed from a 20-loss season, 2 years removed from a coaching change, and the entirety of its roster had just 1 NCAA tournament win and 1 ACC Tournament win. They had yet to prove anything, which, in some ways, even included their coach, who like his mentor Dean Smith, was starting to attract the "can't win the big one," label.
But then a funny thing happened... they actually played the games; and the results of those contests should seem eerily familiar.
(1) North Carolina - Cruised past Oakland, and then beat a 9th-seeded Iowa St. by 27, a team some had picked to beat UNC.
(2) UConn - Won a close contest against Central Florida, then lost to 10th-seeded NC State.
(3) Kansas - Lost to the 14-seed Bucknell. (Whoops...)
(4) Florida - Beat 13-seed Ohio by 5, then lost to the 5th seed Villanova Wildcats.
The result? What was expected to be a Sweet 16 of absolute heavyweights and former/future Champions, ended up being what some dubbed as, "The UNC Invitational":
(1) North Carolina
(10) NC State
Look familiar? It should, because just this past weekend we saw UNC's 2-seed lose to the 7/10 winner. The 3-seed get bounced by the 14-seed. And the 4-seed lost to the 5th seeded team in the region, setting up a Sweet 16 that looks like:
(1) North Carolina
(6) Notre Dame
The only real difference between the two years is that UNC is joined by the 7 instead of the 10, but you still have the Heels as the clear favorite, and the potential of either an All-ACC Elite 8, or another UNC/Wisconsin Elite 8.
All that being said, if we are going to remain consistent with the theme that "appearances can be deceiving," it should be pointed out that, despite being heavy favorites to win the 2005 East Regional, UNC was pushed to the limit in both games. This was particularly true in their first against Villanova, which many have argued they were lucky to win. So while UNC certainly should be the favorite to win both games this weekend, there is no guarantee that it will be any easier than it would have been if they were playing Kentucky and Xavier/West Virginia.