Well, the NCAA selection committee got the matchup they wanted — not that they would ever admit it. The committee apparently spends as much time defending their picks as they do actually making them. Or, just enough to make Andy Katz laugh as they claim seedings are based on resume and not “matchups” like Carolina and Kansas.
Regardless, UNC vs. Kansas will happen on Sunday (5:15 PM, CBS), even if both teams did what they could to prevent it. The Tar Heels spurted out to a 20 point lead on Friday, only to give it all back fast. And the #1 seeded Jayhawks took a deficit into halftime against a 16th seed, which was one of only a handful of times that’s even happened.
But either way, here we are, and what is likely to be the game on Sunday will certainly have some history behind it — even if the committee didn’t plan it — and it doesn’t even have to rhyme with -oy -illiams to make storylines. The Tar Heels have won national titles (‘57 & ‘93) both times they managed to beat Kansas in the NCAAs, and of the five times total that the Jayhawks and Tar Heels have met: all five ended up with the winner in the national title game.
Though, maybe the committee really doesn’t go through much trouble to plan juicy matchups since they seem to be pretty common to UNC anyway. Before Friday night, the last two times UNC has beaten Villanova they went on to win national titles. And of the five times total? Three national titles (‘82, ‘05, ‘09) and one Final Four (‘91) after Tar Heel wins. The lone Villanova win? The Wildcats won the national title in 1985 after beating the Brad Daugherty-led Heels.
In other words, if the committee can somehow work UNC into the path of Kansas or Villanova, the tournament is (historically speaking) guaranteed a traditional power in the Final Four… Even if there’s nothing traditional about the tournament these days.
—or UNC for that matter. Even with their smaller lineup, when UNC is hitting threes they seem almost unbeatable. But when they aren’t, the size problems down low are massive (pun intended). Villanova, who only starts one player over 6’8, crushed the Tar Heels on the boards (35-23) and imposed their pace on the game for much of the second half. If UNC gives up 14 offensive rebounds to Kansas like they did on Friday, consider their season over — no matter how many threes they hit.
Though, with their three-point shooting the Heels can play with anyone. Anyone. #1 seed or not.
But when those threes dried up in the second half, Carolina’s season looked to be coming to an end as the pace slowed and Villanova’s size took over. The Wildcats didn’t shoot well from three, but scored at will in the paint and off rebounds. It took six of eight threes to go down in crunch-time for UNC to hold on, and there’s no way that kind of shooting lasts for five more games.
But it really is a thing of beauty to watch when shots are falling. Bullock and Hairston seem to almost feed off each other. Both native-Carolinians and well-known friends before coming to UNC, the two only made one three-pointer each last night that didn’t come within a minute of the other connecting from long distance. It’s almost as if they start dueling, “Oh you hit one? Now I’ve gotta hit one.” “Oh PJ is getting hot? I can’t let him get all the credit,” says the hypothetical Bullock.
And with Paige starting to get his shot going, this team can be scary-good offensively. The nontraditional (for UNC anyway) shoot-first freshman point guard is a big part of that. Living up to his recent nickname Marcus “Poised” the kid hit the big shots for the third straight ballgame, and is also yet to miss a free throw in crunch-time this March.
Obviously, there’s nothing traditional about this tournament, or this team. More double digit seeds won on Thurs/Fri than ever before, and the Tar Heels continue to resemble nothing like any of UNC’s Roy Williams squads. Though, since no Williams-led Carolina team has beaten Kansas in the tournament… maybe that’s not a bad thing.
The script is the same from here on out. UNC will have to make jump shots, and will have to prevent their opponents’ dominance on the boards — the juicy made-for-TV storyline with Kansas doesn’t change that. But what could change that is if UNC pulls out some magic that’s ripe for a matchup like UNC/Kansas. We’ll see. Roy has never beaten Kansas in the tournament, and UNC has never lost to a #1 seed when they’ve been a #8.
Something has to give, and as the 2013 NCAA Tournament suggests: there’s always a first time for everything.
You can follow Jordan on Twitter @BlackFalcon_net
The fantastic photography used in this piece is via TODD MELET