Examining the positives and negatives of North Carolina’s just-concluded basketball season could really take us in a myriad of directions, and it would take up too much space to hit on every issue. So, let’s avoid that.
In the end, the Tar Heels fell short of their stated goal of winning a national championship. They didn’t even reach the Final Four after falling to Kansas in the Midwest Region finals. But they also had a pretty good excuse for not advancing to New Orleans.
It would be easy to suggest UNC would have beaten the Jayhawks and posed a dangerous threat to Kentucky in the national title game had Kendall Marshall not broken his wrist in the second round versus Creighton and John Henson not sprained his wrist a week earlier, re-injured it versus Ohio and then sprained an ankle over the weekend. Let’s not forget that Reggie Bullock tweaked the knee Friday night that cost him the end of last season. He wore a sleeve over the knee Sunday.
Freshman Stilman White, whose first name was more often-than-not misspelled on UNC message boards until last week, filled in admirably for Marshall. His statistics — 13 assists, no turnovers in 60 minutes in the Sweet 16 and regional final — are actually quite impressive. But he’s not Marshall. His backup, senior Justin Watts, had played point guard twice in his life before this past weekend.
White isn’t a floor general like Marshall. He’s not the leader, not the scoring threat, nor did he run UNC’s offense from the same spaces Marshall did. Thus, the Tar Heels struggled finding a comfort zone over the weekend.
Even when Carolina shot lights-out in the first half against Kansas, many of the shots were atypical for these Heels. Converting shots doesn’t always mean a team is playing well or achieving the results by design. It was a matter of time before Kansas went into the right defense and stymied the Heels.
So, the 32-6 Tar Heels’ season is over, ending in a regional final for the second consecutive year. They won the ACC regular season title and reached the ACC Tournament finals the last two seasons, but have nothing else really of note to show for their efforts.
Tyler Zeller’s career is over, and the general assumption is that any combination of Harrison Barnes, Henson and Marshall will go pro, including a fear among the baby blues that all three will head for the riches of the NBA. James Michael McAdoo isn’t going anywhere.
If so, what is the legacy in Chapel Hill? Will they even have one?
At a lot of schools, two regular season titles, two league tournament title appearances and two Elite Eights are cause for celebrations and historical comparisons. At Carolina, they are general disappointments, and the two-year period will easily get lost in the shuffle of the program’s storied history once it’s regarded in the past tense.
Interestingly, this scribe tweeted an interesting note a few hours before Sunday’s game stating that UNC coach Roy Williams was leading a team into the Elite Eight for the eighth time in 11 years, going back to his last two years at Kansas, and Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski had only accomplished that twice in the same time span.
The intent wasn’t to make a point; it was simply an interesting note.
It evoked a tremendous number of responses, many of which didn’t praise ‘Ol Roy for his accomplishments, but criticized him for not winning more. These weren’t just Duke and N.C. State fans, either. And the basis of their positions varied.
Upon the conclusion of UNC’s 80-67 defeat Sunday evening, many of the same people were back on ripping Williams for not getting the job done. Again, many were Carolina fans. Many were also simply being ignorant, yet there’s a bit of understanding when it comes to the UNC mindset.
They didn’t care that the Heels had three first-team All-ACC players or that Zeller was the ACC Player of the Year and national student-athlete of the year for men’s college hoops or that Henson was the league’s Defensive Player of the Year.
They didn’t highlight Kendall Marshall setting the ACC’s single-season assist record or the Heels earning an NCAA record 14th No. 1 seed as something to take from the season. Winning at Duke for the fifth time in seven seasons didn’t come up, either. Nor did it matter that Williams did a heck of a job getting his team ready to compete Sunday with a kid at point guard who, with all due respect, is more suited for the Sun Belt Conference than the ACC.
Carolina, a walking M.A.S.H. unit if there ever was one, failing to reach the Final Four. And as far as many fans and history are concerned, this team will go down in history jumbled with so many others that failed. Comparisons will be made to clubs from 1957, 1982, 1993, 2005 and 2009.
Fair or not, the bottom line is that’s just how the earth rotates in Chapel Hill.