WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — North Carolina had been pegged as an NCAA Tournament dark horse based almost entirely on name recognition, since programs of the Tar Heels’ pedigree don’t lose 19 games one season then bow out early within the tournament a year later. Right?
No. 9 Wisconsin breezed past No. 8 UNC 85-62 Friday within the first round of the South Region, disassembling a team whose regular-season faults and shortcomings were carried along seamlessly into the postseason.
“I started the season once I was 70 years old and that i desire I’m 103,” UNC coach Roy Williams said. “It’s been a difficult year. But everyone’s had the issues with COVID that we’ve had. it has been a tough year to push and pull, push and pull every other day to urge something done.”
The Badgers advance into a second-round matchup with top-seeded Baylor. The Tar Heels limp into the offseason short on answers, stuck during a deeper rut than at any point in Williams’ tenure.
In the season of the struggling blueblood, UNC became the newest to bow out ungracefully, following within the footsteps of fellow historic powers Duke and Kentucky, which missed the tournament entirely, and Michigan State, which was ejected within the First Four by UCLA.
The game was tied once, at 2-2, then expanded to 40-24 at halftime. UNC drew within 12 points seven minutes into the last half but threw within the towel because the Badgers closed on a 30-19 run.
The loss was brutal enough to boost a question: Is it better to remain home entirely, just like the Blue Devils and Wildcats, or to be blown out by a fellow Power Five opponent in clock time on the tournament’s opening night?
Only once in program history, in 1999, had the Tar Heels been knocked call at the primary round. Never in his previous 29 trips into tournament play, at Kansas and UNC, had Williams did not a minimum of advance into the second round. The program has been bounced by double-digits by a lower seed in its past three tournament appearances, joining a 21-point loss to Texas A&M in 2018 and a 17-point loss to Auburn in 2019. With a final record of 18-11, the Tar Heels will fail to win a minimum of 20 games in consecutive seasons for the second time since 1965-66.
The embarrassments are quickly piling up for a program quickly becoming familiar with counting on excuses, like youth and inexperience, to elucidate away a sudden turn from championship contender to second-tier status within the ACC.
As it seems , an inability to shoot from deep, prevent others from doing an equivalent and avoid turnovers are often a problem in postseason play.
Ranked 224th nationally in turnover margin entering the tournament, UNC committed 10 turnovers to Wisconsin’s seven. Ranked 307th in 3-pointers per game and 269th in 3-point percentage, the Tar Heels made 5-of-13 attempts from deep whilst the Badgers’ defense sagged back to combat a size disadvantage. Meanwhile, Wisconsin made 13-of-27 attempts and shot 50.8% overall.
I don’t think we allowed them to try to to anything,” Williams said. “In basketball particularly it’s man-on-man sometimes . We weren’t ok or experienced enough or coached tolerably or all of the above tonight. It’s frustrating, guys.”
But the problems may run deeper. Wisconsin looked more talented. Certainly more cohesive. The Badgers had a game plan; the Tar Heels looked lost initially then listless, with not even a minor run beginning of halftime to suggest any adjustments to satisfy Wisconsin’s blueprint. The season ended because it had progressed into March: With UNC falling well in need of expectations.
“When you begin talking about inexperience or youth or seven freshmen, that seems like excuses,” Williams said. “But those are facts. i feel we’ve the inspiration which will be really something. the inspiration here are some things that would be really, really special.”
The only hope is that Friday’s tournament thud sparks a return to championship contention. With a youthful roster set to return, there’s some reason for optimism.
But if you’re taking the name out of the equation, what evidence has UNC presented to form you think a rebirth is round the corner?