The Tar Heels have done us all a great favor: the haters got their loss, and the faithful got a hell of a season.
Unlike just about everyone, the team actually lived up to the hype.
That last shot by Marcus Paige—an off-balance, falling, twisting number that caused the ball to land and tie the game—was redemptive, a time-stood-still moment in a contest that was slipping away. Torn away, really, by a veteran Villanova team that just didn't quit.
There is no joy in being on the downside of one of the greatest title games of the tournament, but there's pride, at least, in seeing a team battle back. In its history, Carolina has many storied combinations (Worthy and Jordan in 1982, Lawson and Hansbrough in 2009) and, of course, five championships. But I am not sure those teams had the same kind of cohesion as this one, a togetherness that built over the year as they got it together. It was a classic tournament run, as close to almost as almost gets—four seconds and some change, really.
It was a fine way to end an era.
We'll know in a month or so the outcome of two years of NCAA investigations. No matter how it is spun, it'll leave a nasty mark on UNC's program. There'll be penalties, soul searching, and another backlash against the NCAA. (There should be.) While the administration will push the idea of closure, it is doubtful that the clouds over the university will part any time soon. It is already tense in Chapel Hill, after all.
The campus is restive. The generational divide, particularly when it comes to social issues, is getting sharper, and the friction between the system, now firmly in the grasp of conservatives, and some of its more liberal campuses is generating more heat.
I remember an anthropology class at Carolina that ended with a series of lectures on the end of the world, specifically how humans were destroying themselves and the planet. Before the lectures, our professor said the material was so bleak that he only taught the class in spring, with the doomsday material scheduled to coincide with the time the azaleas bloomed. I hope the kids on Franklin Street who had their dreams dashed on Monday will take a little solace in the season.
The Carolina that convenes next fall will have gone through change and challenge. Let's hope it learned something from its basketball team: get back up, and figure out how to do it better.