Don’t get me wrong, the title is slightly misleading. I don’t think we’re title favorites this year, I don’t even think we’ll make it to the Final Four for that matter. But part of that is why I’m so excited for this upcoming year. In my two years at Carolina, the sports news community has set ridiculously high standards for UNC–in 2010-2011, it was that Harrison Barnes would be the savior of our team. In the summer of 2011, we were all but crowned the 2012 champs even though we all knew the class that Kentucky had coming in. And while it’s easy to claim so in retrospect, I was worried about this past season, even before our problems started to show: the expectations were simply too high for this team. “They’re all coming back!” or “It’s 2009 all over again!” were posted everywhere online and spoken amongst UNC students when fall semester started.
It was supposed to be our year. I, myself, took part in these conversations. But at the same time, I secretly worried that we were getting our hopes up. Outside of Chapel Hill, I believe that a lot of people realized we were good but not 2009 or 1982 good. A lot of this leads me to my previous assertion: without the bold claims of championship, or even title contender, this season will be a lot more fun to watch.
A lot of people say that this year will be a rebuilding year for Carolina with the loss of four starters. I don’t buy that. We have numerous McDonald’s All Americans, a top ten recruit class, and, oh yeah, a hall of fame coach in Roy Williams. “We don’t rebuild, we reload” is what fans of blue blood teams like Carolina will tell you. That being said, no one is proclaiming us as the king. Now, Joe Lunardi has us as a solid 2 seed with Indiana as the early favorite to win it all. I wish Tom Crean the best of luck because it’s lonely up top and you have an entire year to wait there till next March. Now, I can watch a UNC basketball game without worrying about if we’ll drop out of the top 5 with a loss (I’ll still be extremely nervous though, cause hey, it’s Carolina basketball). We’re the ones that can prove everyone wrong. We’re the team that could be the dark horse. We can be the underdog come March that stuns everyone.
Not to mention that the incoming class will be exciting and we’ll see the return of both Leslie McDonald and Dexter Strickland. Our guard play will be incredible compared to what it’s been and surely James Michael McAdoo will continue to grow into a force to be reckoned with. Marcus Paige looks like a young Kendall Marshall and will hopefully pick up where Kendall left off. JP Tokoto has already become one of my favorite players, being avidly anti-Duke and a vocal UNC fan. He clearly isn’t just coming for basketball, it appears he loves the University as well. Best of all, though is that we’re starting the year fresh. We can get the bad taste out of our mouth from this past March, get pumped, and by the time Late Night with Roy comes around, we’ll be ready for an exciting and new team.
We may not be the title favorite, or even the ACC favorite, but that’s now part of the fun: competing without having to worry about not living up to expectations. For the first time in two years, a lot of the pressure is off (at least for the fans) and we can just enjoy watching our Heels play basketball.