North Carolina basketball has accomplished a lot during the regular season, but their year will start to be defined this week in New York.
After Carolina’s scintillating 90-83 victory over 17th-ranked Duke Saturday night, the Tar Heels clinched their second regular-season title in a row. It was Roy Williams’ eighth regular-season championship in 13 years.
However fairly or unfairly, this Carolina team will be judged by their play in March. All the madness begins next Tuesday in Brooklyn.
In what ESPN’s Jay Bilas called a “five-day fistfight” the ACC Tournament rolls into the Barclay’s Center with a loaded field.
If UNC wants to win another ACC Tournament, they will have to run through a gauntlet of talented teams.
Thursday the Heels will face the winner of the Miami-Syracuse tilt. Miami handed UNC one of its worse losses of the season 77-62 on January 28th in Coral Gables. Jim Boeheim’s Orange have improved vastly since Carolina’s 85-68 victory in the Smith Center January 16th, and either opponent will offer an opening-round challenge right off the bat.
If UNC can get through to Friday, a Hall of Fame coach and a high-octane team may be waiting.
Rick Pitino’s Louisville Cardinals and Mike Krzyzewski’s Duke Blue Devils gathered the fourth and fifth seeds respectively, and each have enough talent to make a deep run in March.
Carolina earned a season split with Duke in two games that lived up to the hype, and defeated the Cardinals 74-63 in a fast-paced track meet on February 22nd in Chapel Hill.
Other top-quality teams lurking on the other side of the bracket include Mike Brey’s 19th-ranked Notre Dame team, Leonard Hamilton’s number-15 Florida State, and Tony Bennett’s Virginia Cavaliers. Carolina dominated those teams at home, but played their worst game of the season at Virginia, losing 53-43 February 27th in Charlottesville.
This ACC Tournament looks to be one of the deepest in the conference’s rich history. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi currently has ten ACC squads in the NCAA Tournament field, the most from any league in the country.
The ACC has proved all season long to be a conference full of heavyweights. If UNC can cut down the nets Saturday night they will enter the “Big Dance” as one of the favorites to win it all and return to the Final Four.
In March the cream rises to the top in college hoops, and this year’s ACC Tournament looks to be a showcase.