North Carolina Tar Heel fans suffered the most unfortunate blow of any team in the tournament. Losing Kendall Marshall to a broken wrist right before the Sweet 16 crushed UNCs title quest. The preseason favorites to cut down the nets, the Tar Heels went through a turbulent, up and down season. They seemed to be peaking at the perfect time the injury bug hit. First it was to John Henson in the ACC Tournament. Then the fatal blow to Marshall that proved to be too much for them to overcome. Those are the most glaring obstacles the Tar Heels faced this season among many others. This was a season of overcoming adversity, growing from tough experiences and playing as a team. Carolinas has a lot to be proud about when looking back on the season.
Look at some of the things the Tar Heels overcame this season and some of the wonderful things that came out of it.
The loss of your top two shooting guards AND your backup point guard: Many do not realize that Leslie McDonald, not Reggie Bullock or PJ Hairston who was going to compete with Dexter Strickland for the starting shooting guard spot. McDonald was the teams best returning three point shooter and was lighting up the summer Pro-Am circuit before his injury. Losing him before the season didn’t seem like a big deal considering the depth the Heels had at the position. Then with the injury to Strickland, the Heels were down to just Bullock and Hairston and no experience behind Kendall Marshall at the point. If anything, the Tar Heels benefited from this by discovering that Reggie Bullock has a great future and by giving PJ Hairston valuable experience he might not have received with a healthy rotation. And now Leslie McDonald will graduate after the 2013 season instead of after the upcoming year.
Heart breaking losses: One point losses to Kentucky, Duke and a devastating 33 point blowout loss to Florida State can either cripple a team mentally, or make them stronger. In the Tar Heels case, it made them stronger and brought the team closer together. Several late season close victories, including the OT win in the Sweet 16 against Ohio proved the Heels learned from the experience of these games.
National medial scrutiny far above any other program: Kansas and Michigan State were ranked above Carolina for much of the season despite having more losses. One of MSU’s losses was against UNC in the Carrier Classic and still they were somehow ranked higher. UNC and Syracuse were the only two teams in the nation to not lose to a unranked team. UNC had to scratch and claw to get their ranking where it belonged by the end of the season. At times it was hard and you could tell the unrelenting expectations of perfection wore on the players. But ultimately it showed the Heels this season that they cannot rely on receiving the credit they deserve. Anything that provides extra motivation for those coming back next season is a good thing. And the way this team was scrutinized should put a chip on the returning players shoulders.
The Stillman White story: White entered this season as the all cases emergency recruit PG. He wasn’t supposed to play at all, that was until the rash of injuries left him as the only PG on the roster. Stillman White is not your typical UNC PG, not even your typical backup PG. He’s not very athletic, fast and he wasn’t a big time recruit. He came into a highly pressured situation and played his heart out committing zero turnovers in his two starts. A lot of freshman would have freaked out about suddenly being thrust into the starting lineup as North Carolinas PG, not White. He kept it cool and collective, and as his Twitter profile says, White boy made noise.
Just look at what Roy Williams had to say about Stillman’s 13 assist, zero turnover performance in his two NCAA Tournament starts.
“one of the great stories in North Carolina basketball. What that kid did, I hope he’ll remember the rest of his life.” White is still planning to go on his two-year Mormon mission after this semester, Williams said.
Team Awards: Three All-ACC first team representatives and one second team. Two second team All-Americans. The ACC Player of the Year and ACC Defensive Player of the Year. The fact that I couldn’t even fit the teams accolades on one line is impressive to say the least. Tyler Zeller, Harrison Barnes and John Henson were all named first team All-ACC with Kendall Marshall landing on the first team as maybe the biggest snub I’ve ever seen. Zeller took home the conference POY award after a dominate senior season. Henson took home his second conference DPOY award and somehow improved defensively after putting together a terrific season on both ends of the floor. Zeller and Barnes landed on the All-American second team. And Carolina won the conference regular season title and received a number one seed in the NCAA Tournament. All that hardware means Tyler Zeller and Harrison Barnes will have their #44 and #40 jerseys hang in the Dean Smith Center rafters with the all time Carolina greats. It also serves as proof that this was a special team. Who knows what would have happened if not for all the injuries and different adverse circumstances that came down upon this team this season. In any case, Roy Williams and the entire University of North Carolina mens basketball program has a lot to be proud of this season.
Tags: Chapel Hill Dean Smith Center Desmond Hubert Dexter Strickland FanSided Harrison Barnes John Henson Justin Watts Kendall Marshall NCAA NCAA Basketball NCAA Tournament PJ Hairston Reggie Bullock Roy Williams Stillman White