“Generally speaking, kids do get more enthused at tournament time. I’m pretty straightforward with them. I say, ‘Hey, we turned it around, but let’s not look back and say the highlight of our season is a three-to-four-week period in February.’”
The Tar Heels have put the regular season in the rearview mirror and now set their sights on a season filled with much higher stakes. Tournament season is special. The “one and done” mantra makes for an unpredictable stretch run that has coaches, players and fans alike overcome with nerves and sweaty palms.
It’s the sudden end to the season, no matter how illustrious or successful the year has been, that makes the NCAA Tournament the most fascinating and exciting tournament in all of sports. Each round, whether you are Kansas, Duke or Wofford, you put your neck on the line for 40 minutes. Any false step could be lethal. And with a loss, your team is left scratching its head, asking itself what happened. What could have been? The exit doors always loom large in this “Big Dance.”
For Carolina, so far, it has been a year of recovery. The disastrous 1-4 ACC start left most observers resigning the Tar Heels to an NIT berth. Yet here we are. And despite the predictable loss at Cameron Indoor on Saturday, where everybody and their mother fails, there are talks of UNC being as high as a three or four seed in the NCAA Tournament.
But first things first: the ACC Tournament provides a test or tune-up (however you’d like to look at it) before the final exam next week. Selection Sunday is coming right up. With a conference title, Carolina would be a trendy Final Four pick by droves of national pundits. With a quarterfinal exit on Friday, the Tar Heels would be more likely referred to as the “Tar Holes,” with plenty of vulturine analysts predicting a first or second round ending for Carolina.
It’s a fine line. Roy has said as much throughout the 2013-14 campaign. This year’s squad, he says, has a tiny margin for error. Every facet of the UNC game has to be clicking at a high level to achieve victory. Now that’s a lot of pressure heading into this time of year.
But the Tar Heels have toughness in their arsenal as well. That’s a handy intangible to hold. They also have newly named Second-Team All-American Marcus Paige on their side. Roy calls him “the toughest little nut I’ve ever coached.” One thing is for sure: it should be tantalizingly intriguing to watch this Carolina team attempt to wade its way through the brackets.
But for now, let’s simply rejoice! Yessir, it’s that time of year again: March. The month that the entire country – and especially college campuses across the nation – gets swept up in a frenzy of hoops. There is nothing like it in sports (college football executives, take note as you embark on the new playoff system). Everybody, from all age groups, genders, and walks of life, unites in the confines of their brackets. Students add a second major in bracketology, and professionals aggressively study the science of college basketball.
Office pools, ESPN bracket challenges, Vegas cash, and friendly wagers are all on the line. It captures the hearts and minds of America. Will a Cinderella make a run? Will the goliaths of the hardwood meet in the Final Four? It’s anyone’s guess. But with the major conference tournament games tipping off this week, we are all strapped in for a wild ride.
And yes, our beloved Heels are in the thick of things. Their championship quest begins Friday. Roy is hoping to put the finishing touches on an award-winning script. But for now, slap on your dancing shoes and enjoy the Madness that is March.