Suddenly, it’s the offseason. The team that actually made the NCAA Tournament this year, Coach Banghart’s squad, was sent home on a last-second heartbreaker by the third-seeded Ohio State yesterday, and the men’s team has been home for much longer than that. That’s the toughest part of a single elimination tournament; for every team but one, the season just ends, without any kind of falling action or catharsis. It’s clipping along until, all at once, it isn’t anymore. Now we find ourselves in a sort of holding pattern, not yet distracted fully by baseball games or spring football, drifting in the suddenly-still air of the offseason like the pollen that has begun to coat my car each morning here in Chapel Hill.
It’s a weird time, and we’re blessed to be accustomed to our teams playing past the first weekend in their respective tournaments. The fact that this stillness is noteworthy is an unmistakable mark of the privilege that we all enjoy because we root for the Tar Heels.
It’s still still, though. A few pieces of news from the men’s team have trickled out; players who no longer wish to be Tar Heels, and players from outside of Chapel Hill who might want to be. The end-of-year questions have been asked, and only a few have been answered. The women’s team, by virtue of a much better season than Coach Davis’ squad, are a bit behind on the kind of soul-searching that each offseason brings.
McKay wrote a fantastic post on Sunday about the new questions that the Tar Heel coaches face in the midst of this sudden quiet, and especially the incredible impact of the transfer portal on the college basketball landscape. This is part of the activity that is stirring behind the scenes, as we look around at the pieces of a women’s season that ended too soon and a men’s season that ended purposefully (some would say mercifully) early.
From the outside looking in, there’s not much to do but wonder and wait. Will we get another chance to see our favorite players from last season back in the right color blue next season? Who will be the newcomer on campus that we will come to love? Whose time as a Tar Heel ended unceremoniously with a second-round ACC Tournament defeat and an alleged team vote? Will the women’s squad be energized by the tough loss to Ohio State, or will that hurt be the destructive, deflating kind?
We always want to believe that our favorites love Carolina as much as we do. In some cases, this appears to be the truth; I don’t think anyone can doubt Armando Bacot’s genuine affection for the Southern part of heaven, regardless of what the future holds for him. In contrast, though, it’s pretty clear that Chapel Hill doesn’t hold much sway in the minds of the former Tar Heels who have entered the transfer portal in search of greener pastures elsewhere. Often times we don’t know where an individual falls on this spectrum until a decision is made.
In the meantime, we wait.