Things are feeling more and more grim when it comes to UNC’s NCAA Tournament chances. The Tar Heels gave us all hope when they slapped down Clemson in the Dean Smith Center, only to come back down to Earth in their loss against Miami. If you believe people like Joe Lunardi, this team is almost certainly not going to make it without making an improbable run through the remainder of their schedule, as well as a deep run in the ACC Tournament. I am not a betting man, but I will say that’s a bet that I’m not willing to take.
Still, let’s say that the Heels do find a way to go on this miraculous run: what is the endgame once you get there? To get back to the Final Four? Of course that is what this team is focused on, and they will continue to focus on doing so despite all of the outside noise. The problem, however, is that realistically this just isn’t looking like their year. Just take a look at the top teams in the country right now: Houston (23-2), Alabama (22-4), Tennessee (20-6), and Purdue (23-3) have been tearing through their schedules, and really none of the teams mentioned have shown a whole lot of weaknesses in doing so. Also, if we’re being honest, Kansas is probably more of a championship contender than they’ve appeared to be this season — the Big 12 admittedly has been stacked, and the entire conference has been beating each other up on a night-to-night basis.
What all of this boils down to is that sure, the Tar Heels have a path still to the NCAA Tournament, but getting there may be the biggest prize that comes out of doing so. Tar Heel Blog Site Manager Tanya Anderson put it perfectly in the newest episode of the What in Tar Nation Podcast, “We’re just going to be happy to be there.”
Of course, the elephant in the room is what happened last season — following the February 16th loss to Pitt, the Heels went undefeated through the remainder of the regular season schedule, and beat Virginia in the ACC Tournament before losing to the eventual ACC Tournament Champions, Virginia Tech. This team has done the improbable before, and somehow made it to the National Championship game to face off against Kansas. This team has been in this exact position before, and unfortunately for us fans, that is what keeps some sliver of hope alive.
For me, I think the best thing this team can do is to finish out the rest of their season with pride. Taking pride in sharing the ball, taking pride in making good decisions, and taking pride in not giving teams anymore easy wins. Yes, doing these things could earn them another improbable NCAA Tournament bid, but ultimately that shouldn’t be the main goal. This team has been demoralized throughout the season after starting it as the #1 team in the country. At this point, the only pressure that remains is the pressure to be the best version of themselves.
I know this all sounds super corny, but realistically I think this team just needs to focus on not going down without a fight, and making sure the rest of the country knows that most of this season wasn’t who this team really was. It’s unfortunate that Redemption 2.0 only looks like a dream at this point, but giving NC State, Virginia, and Duke hell to close out the season could be their reality.