Some fans of less storied and successful programs might say “You just won the National Championship, you don’t need to go to the Final Four again. Stop being greedy!” Well, they’re wrong. I would argue that another Final Four run is almost necessary to cement the legacy of this team and to silence all the haters that continue to exist.
Yes, the Heels won the National Championship this year. I’m still relishing it and trying to relive it almost every day by re-watching game highlights at least twice a week (I may or may not have an addiction to Carolina basketball). However, for a team that just went to two straight NCAA Finals and cut down the nets in Phoenix this year, the Heels haven’t gotten the respect that they deserve. The talking heads of sports media still find ways to dismiss the Heels as unworthy of their championship. They ignore UNC’s voracious drive all throughout the 2016-17 season to win a championship, and they belittle UNC’s run to nothing more than luck and biased refs.
I don’t mean to sound like the victim here, I mean the Tar Heels are the indisputable National Champions. As much as State and Duke fans might think otherwise, the NCAA won’t take away 2017 (or 2005 and 2009 for that matter). The Heels have six national titles, and they’re alone for third in the NCAA. However, it just feels like the only thing that will shut up the majority of sports media is if the Heels go to an unprecedented third-straight Final Four. It will also cement the legacy of this team—specifically the recruiting class of 2014—as one of the best in Carolina history.
UNC has only done this feat once in their storied history when Dean Smith led the Heels to the 1967, 1968, and 1969 Final Fours. This was the breakout performance for Dean, and it set the stage for his eventual eleven Final Fours and two national championships. These three years cemented the Heels as a basketball powerhouse, a title that they haven’t lost since. A 2018 Final Four run would do much the same, showing the world again that UNC is truly the best that college basketball has to offer.
Carolina will likely have the tools next season to do it. While the Heels lose the ACC Player of the Year in Justin Jackson, they may very well end up gaining Kevin Knox. While the Heels lose Kennedy Meeks and Isiaiah Hicks to graduation, they will gain an older and more experienced Tony Bradley if he returns, and a Luke Maye hoping to build upon his postseason success. Finally, the Heels will likely return Joel Berry, who was their heart, soul and team leader during the 2016-17 season. A Berry, Kenny Williams, Theo Pinson, Knox, and Bradley lineup is very intimidating, and it could very well be a reality.
Furthermore, UNC will be playing in a weaker ACC next year. Duke loses three (and potentially all five) of their 2016-17 starters, and their recruiting class is not as stacked as in years past. Virginia loses their last truly good offensive weapon in London Perrantes, who was their only player to average in double figures last year. FSU loses Jonathan Isaac, Xavier Rathan-Mayes, and Dwayne Bacon. Three of Louisville’s leading scorers have declared for the NBA draft without an agent, and it’s not unlikely to think that one, two, or maybe even all three of them will go. Notre Dame loses V.J. Beachem and Steve Vasturia. It’s not unlikely to think that UNC could take home a third-straight ACC regular season title.
As for a third-straight Final Four, that is a fair bit harder. However, if there’s one thing that this year’s team proved, it’s that they’re tough. That toughness should carry over to next year’s team. UNC should still feel like they have something to prove next year, even after winning the national title. Let’s just all hope that next year’s season ends in San Antonio.