Carolina has one special streak left that is very much alive.
The Tar Heels, past and present, are descending upon Chapel Hill this week as basketball camp begins. By the time the second summer session gets here, so will all of the incoming freshmen in the newest class.
Seeing Brice Johnson, Marcus Paige, Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks, Joel Berry and Theo Pinson all playing pick-up in the Smith Center reminds us of one very important streak Carolina can keep going even though the Tar Heels failed to get back to their third straight Final Four.
The current streak, though under the radar, may be the hardest to maintain in this one-and-done, early departure age of college basketball. UNC will go into the 2018-19 season with the chance of having its fourth straight nationally ranked team with at least two senior starters. Think about that; it’s darn near impossible for two years in a row, let alone four. It’s the virtue of what Roy Williams calls “experienced talent.”
Now, let’s be clear on the distinction. There are dozens of college basketball teams in the country that have senior starters. But not many of them are playing for the national championship each season. Players who are good enough to contend for Final Fours are usually long gone before their senior years.
In 2016, the Tar Heels went to the Final Four with Johnson and Paige as seniors. Okay, neither of those guys was on draft boards as juniors and the team, itself, overachieved from preseason, finishing first in the ACC and drawing a No. 1 NCAA seed. But after losing All-American Brice and sensational student-athlete Marcus, what could be on tap for next season?
Two more seniors rising up to lead Carolina back to the Final Four and winning it all in 2017. With Hicks and Meeks graduating and Justin Jackson turning pro a year early, what could they possibly do the next season with Berry and Pinson as seniors? Not quite as much, as was expected, but still enough to win 26 games and finish tied for third in the ACC, nationally ranked every week of the season, finishing at No. 10.
Okay, so here we go again. What can they do for another encore? Only this year, start three seniors – Luke Maye, Kenny Williams and Cam Johnson. Yes, two big starting spots are open. Beginning ranked high in the polls is a given, but staying there all the way to the end? That would be a streak worth crowing about.