March Madness lives up to its name every single year. The Madness starts as late season conference races are decided, heats up during conference tournaments and comes to a climax in the big dance. Finding success in that big dance can be really tough. It features 60 something teams, all with the same goal- cutting down the nets in Texas this April.
The teams that will end up cutting down the nets will be a tough, battle tested team. A team that went through the ups and downs of the season and peaked at the right time. It does not matter if you won 31 games in the regular season or if you had the best recruiting class in the nation for the last three years. All that matters in March and April is how you are playing heading down in the stretch run of the season.
The North Carolina Tar Heels got off to a terrible start in the ACC, but now, they are on a roll, having won their last 12 games heading into tonight’s match-up against Duke. But this is what makes me worried- the Tar Heels margin of victory, offensive efficiency and general “eye-test” level of play has gone down just as the wins have piled up. UNC needed overtime and Marcus Paige’s miracle to beat NC State, survived on the road over Virginia Tech by just four points and stole a victory away from Notre Dame 63-61.
Coach Roy Williams calls this kind of winning “winning ugly,” and he said after Monday’s win against ND that he was tired of winning ugly in these close games. The Tar Heels have gotten complacent, winning close games and not looking dominant in their past few games. I want to bring up a comparison to the Tar Heels recent stretch of play- Syracuse’s run of games between February 1st and 15th. Cuse played and won five games in that spell, over Duke, ND, Clemson, Pitt and NC State. But it was the way that they won that was the cause for concern.
Cuse needed overtime and a two point margin to beat Duke. They had a six point win over Notre Dame. The next week, the Orange won comfortable against Clemson but only beat Pitt and NC State by a combined three points. Yes, the Orange were winning, but they were winning ugly. And later on that month leading up to the present day, the shots stopped falling and Syracuse has lost four of their last five.
Yes, a 12 game win streak is great for Carolina. But I am worried this team is becoming complacent with where they are right now and losing focus on the end of season goals that come true at the Final Four in Texas. UNC needs a wake-up call, so that they can refocus and rededicate themselves for the final games in the season. And that wake-up call may have to come in the form of a loss against the Dukies in Cameron.
A loss at Cameron Indoor would give Duke the bragging rights in the rivalry and possible better seeding in the ACC tournament, but who cares? I would rather brag about a Final Four berth than a late season win over Duke, especially since we beat them earlier in the season. Yes, its a huge rivalry between Duke and UNC. But the Tar Heels would be aided by the kick in the rear end that the loss would give the team.
So keep an open mind tonight, Tar Heels fans. Hopefully, UNC comes into Cameron and knocks the socks off Duke. But if not, the loss might just be exactly what the doctor ordered in order to get the Tar Heels to advance farther into the ACC and NCAA tournaments.