Four seeds, two extra days of rest, an automatic appearance in the quarterfinal, and a potential one-seed in the Big Dance—not to mention the bragging rights that come with a season sweep and a win on your rival’s home court.
That’s about everything Carolina saw slip through their fingers with Saturday’s loss at Cameron Indoor.
Now the Tar Heels need to take a more pedestrian route through arguably America’s toughest conference—one the so-called experts predict could have as many as eleven tournament bids—if they want to take home their nineteenth conference championship.
As the sixth seed, the Heels earned a first-round bye and won’t play until Wednesday, when they’ll match up with the winner of Tuesday’s Wake/Syracuse game. From there, they’ll have to win four games in four days if number nineteen is in the cards.
There is a mouth-watering potential Tobacco Road re-rematch in the semifinals if the Heels and Blue Devils take care of business through Thursday, but given the pandemonium that is inherent to any conference tournament, in a season that has proven that absolutely nothing is a sure thing, we must remember how much basketball is to be played between now and then.
Let us not forget, however, that despite being a six-seed in the ACC, Carolina is one of America’s top-ten teams and more than a few pundits are picking them to do serious damage this week in Brooklyn.
I predict the Heels will once again knock off Syracuse, sending them to a quarterfinal showdown with third-seeded Miami who, as we all remember, played spoiler on Joel Berry and Theo Pinson’s senior night. Taking care of the business they couldn’t on that occasion, Carolina will handle Miami and find themselves in a rematch—but not with the Blue Devils, who will fall to tournament dark horse Notre Dame.
The Irish will continue their improbable streak, bouncing Carolina in the semis and facing off against Virginia in the championship, whose route to the final will include wins over Louisville and N.C. State. Saturday will see the Cavaliers putting the grace note on their outstanding ACC season, as their defense and guard play will prove entirely too much for Notre Dame to handle.
Of course, there is likely a less than 1 percent chance that I am right here. But isn’t the guessing half the fun of tournament time?