When Caleb Love made it official on Sunday that North Carolina will bring back four starters for the 2022-23 season, it got Tar Heel fans dreaming about another deep NCAA Tournament run. While replacing the fifth starter, Brady Manek, will be tough, national runners-up who bring back that much production almost always find themselves ranked somewhere in the top 5 in the next year’s preseason polls. UNC will almost certainly continue that trend.
While we still have several months before the team will take the court, it’s never too early to dream. And what says dreaming more than drawing extremely iffy conclusions based on sheer coincidences? Let’s take a extremely non-scientific look at some “comparisons” we can make to past great UNC teams.
While next season will start in 2022, the tournament will of course cross over to an odd-numbered year in 2023. All of UNC’s last four national championships (1993, 2005, 2009, and 2017) have come in odd-numbered years, and only one of UNC’s six NCAA Tournament title has ever come in an even year.
Beyond that, the last two titles have come in an odd year the season after a heartbreaking final weekend loss in an even year 12 months prior. The 2009 title followed a brutal Final Four loss to Kansas, while the 2017 team got redemption after the ‘16 title game ended with [REDACTED]. The second half of the National Championship Game this past year definitely qualifies as heart-breaking.
A third coincidence is that in 2016, before the heart-breaking loss to Villanova, UNC advanced to the Final Four out of the East Regional, the last two rounds of which were held in Philadelphia. Last year, the Tar Heels’ Sweet 16 and Elite Eight wins were played in Philadelphia.
The coach who preceded Hubert Davis as the head man in Chapel Hill was, of course, the great Roy Williams. After coming to UNC in 2003, he won his first ever championship in his second season in charge. Next year will also be Davis’ second season in charge.
The four returning starters for UNC will wear the numbers #1 (Leaky Black), #2 (Caleb Love), #4 (RJ Davis) and #5 (Armando Bacot). All of UNC’s last three title teams have featured at least one (usually more than that) starters wearing numbers from that grouping.
To give the flip side, let’s look at some of the coincidences that don’t portend positive things.
One is that next year’s Final Four is set to be held in Houston. NCAA Tournament games have been held in Houston in 13 different years, none of which came in years when UNC cut down the nets. A Tar Heel team has only actually played in Houston in two of those years, but neither ended fun-ly. They lost in the Sweet 16 to Louisville there in 1986, and also lost in the Final Four there in 2016 when [REDACTED] happened.
Final Fours in Texas in general have never gone well for Carolina, as in addition to 2016, tough endings in both 1998 and 2008 both happened in San Antonio.
One other location related issue is that the Heels will not be taking part in the Maui Invitational this year. In all three championship years in the Roy Williams’ era, Carolina took part in and won in Maui before cutting down the NCAA Tourney nets later that season. Next November, UNC will be taking part in the PK Invitational, a Nike-run event being held in Portland.
Does absolutely any of that actually mean anything for the 2022-23 season? No, not really, but it’s still fun to dream.