Disappointing? Hardly. For UNC's 'K Slayers,' nothing that happened against Kansas was going to top beating Duke
Disappointing? Not even close.
Monday night could be described in myriad ways, but “disappointing” would be a 15 seed with no chance of surviving the first draft of North Carolina’s 2021-22 season in review.
North Carolina basketball doesn’t do participation trophies or undeserved atta-boys, so what follows is anything but an attempt to erase, excuse, minimize or pacify what happened in the 2nd half of the national championship game Monday night.
Better than most, this program knows the euphoria and exasperation of the NCAA Tournament. Only 2 men’s basketball programs on Earth have won more national championships. And while Monday added to their total of title game losses, it’s not even comparable to the postseason heartache and what-ifs this program has endured.
If you know, you know …
To wit just a few: 1977 was disappointing, watching Phil Ford grab his elbow in agony in the Elite 8, ultimately understanding exactly what that meant to Dean Smith’s bid to win his first NCAA title.
Watching officials hijack the 1984 Sweet 16 game against Indiana, calling 2 quick whistles on Michael Jordan and ultimately fouling him out after 26 minutes in his final college game, was disappointing.
Watching Jerry Stackhouse throw down that reverse dunk at Duke and mean-mug his way to halfcourt, the highlight of a 102-100 double OT win that teased to that 1995 team’s ceiling … only to fall short on an off night in Seattle in the Final Four? That was beyond disappointing.
Watching UNC win the 1997 ACC Tournament, earn a No. 1 seed behind Vince and Sheed and then suffer their worst offensive performance of the year in another Final Four loss was disappointing.
And, of course, watching Marcus Paige’s double-clutch, championship-game tying 3-pointer go for naught when Villanova’s Kris Jenkins walked into a 3-pointer seconds later to win it all in 2016 was disappointing.
Monday night? You’re kidding, right?
No longtime follower of North Carolina basketball is feeling anything other than sheer pride about this overachieving group that ended Mike Krzyzewski’s career and came up 1 bucket short of hanging a 7th banner.
Not after this team fought its way off the bubble by beating Krzyzewski twice, first spoiling his final home game and then sending him into retirement with their greatest win in series history — and arguably their best win ever.
Cinderella never looked better in baby blue.
It’s easy to nit-pick about Monday night. Caleb Love, who slayed the Blue Devils with that historic dagger 3 on Saturday night, shot 5-for-24 against Kansas. Brady Manek didn’t get nearly enough looks in the 2nd half after draining 3 key 3-pointers in the 1st-half tidal wave. Hubert Davis at times looked like a rookie head coach unable to scheme the Heels out of danger. UNC took rushed shots and forced shots. Sometimes the wrong guys took shots. They turned it over. Their weary and injured legs didn’t have the burst needed to defend without fouling.
Again, there’s enough there to lament, if that’s your thing.
But understand this: There’s absolutely nothing the Tar Heels could have done Monday night that would have topped what they did against Duke. Nothing. That sounds utterly preposterous if you’re not from North Carolina, but for UNC fans, beating Duke was Blue Heaven. Even a national title would have been a footnote to conquering Coach K. Five years from now, only the diehards would have remembered who UNC beat in the title game. As such, The Team That Beat Duke team deserves better than half-baked hot-takes about how they choked away a national title in New Orleans.
Give Kansas credit. The No. 1 seed Jayhawks dominated every team they played in the NCAA Tournament — except this believing bunch that went from the bubble to the brink.
As entertaining as it is, it’s impossible to adequately compare teams from different eras, but sports-reference.com tries its best, nonetheless. Its computer system rated this team the 44th-best in program history. This team … which lost 10 games and fell out of the Top 25 after the 2nd week of the season … came within 1 bucket of winning the national championship.
That’s worth repeating and remembering.
Perspective is everything, every time.
That’s why the mood from Manteo to Murphy is dramatically different today than it was in 2016. Or 1977. Or 1984. Or dozens of other morning-afters in between. Those teams were built to win it all. This team was seeded No. 30 out of the 68 teams that made the field.
But this team beat Duke. In the Final Four. That’s this team’s story. That’s their legacy.
They didn’t win it all. That’s the asterisk and nothing more. North Carolina fans know what NCAA Tournament disappointment looks like.
Monday night wasn’t it.