On the opposite side of that argument are the people who take into account more advanced metrics, such as the fact that UNC played the hardest schedule in the country this season and had fourteen Quadrant 1 wins, thus making ten losses somewhat more palatable.
Whatever your stance, Carolina’s hunt for a third consecutive appearance in the Final Four begins Friday against Lipscomb. But before we get ahead of ourselves, we can’t forget that the 2/15 matchup has not always proven as sure a thing as the seeding would indicate.
Since the early nineties, there have been a handful of fifteen-seeds that have toppled Goliath, the most enjoyable for Heels fans, of course, being Lehigh’s upending of Duke in the first round of the 2012 tourney.
That said, I see almost no way in which Carolina doesn’t find themselves in a second-round matchup with either Providence or Texas A&M.
While the Aggies played their best basketball midseason, enjoying upsets over Kentucky and Auburn, Providence has spent the last few weeks giving their opponents everything they can handle, coming just short of a Big East Tournament Championship. Considering the shape Ed Cooley currently has his Friars in, I wouldn’t hope for the 7/10 upset. If I had to pick a pre-tournament Cinderella, Providence would be it.
No matter what happens everywhere else in the brackets, the Heels need to finish if they want to think about a trip to San Antonio, as Carolina’s Achilles’ Heel of late has been their inability to close some games out. They gave away a sizeable lead at Duke to end the regular season and did everything in their power to do it again in ACC tourney play, turning the ball over and forgetting to score in the final five or so minutes of the game.
If they can play with rhythm, minimize their turnovers, and score in transition, Carolina’s rebounding and outside shooting can easily carry them into the Elite Eight, if not further. And while the East region is widely regarded as being the lightest, the West isn’t too far behind, with Xavier sitting atop the bracket and teams like Gonzaga and Ohio State filling in a rather weak top five.
Carolina’s biggest concern could be a rematch with the very dangerous Michigan Wolverines, a three-seed, in the Sweet Sixteen. Though the Heels beat the Wolverines in late November, Michigan finished their season with a Big Ten Tournament win over an extremely good Purdue team and are being picked around the country as a potential Final Four team. Couple their excellent play with an extra week of rest and the Wolverines cut an intimidating figure.
Nothing in the NCAA tournament comes easy, but if the Tar Heels can put together a string of early and convincing wins, it would come as a surprise to no one to see them in yet another Final Four.
Whatever happens, I absolutely cannot wait. It’s tourney time, baby!