The Case For: North Carolina

The Case For: North Carolina

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - First: A confession. I bleed Carolina Blue. I graduated from UNC in 1998. I'm looking at a signed photo of Roy Williams' first game at Carolina hanging on the wall of my office as I write this.

So I'm not impartial.

But what I'm about to tell you is the truth. The University of North Carolina is going to cut down the nets in Houston.

I wouldn't have said this two weeks ago. I might not have even said this two days ago. But then the Tar Heels, now a No. 1 seed, beat Virginia, also a top seed, in the ACC Championship. On a neutral floor. In a game both teams badly wanted to win.

North Carolina is peaking at the right time.

UNC started the season as the favorite to win the national championship. But then, the season happened. Star guard Marcus Paige didn't live up to expectations. Coach Roy Williams suffered scary bouts of vertigo. The Heels stumbled with road losses at Northern Iowa, Texas, Louisville, Notre Dame, and Virginia.

They even lost a game they should have won at home, to the dreaded Dook Blue Devils.

The whispers started. UNC is talented, but not tough. They can't win close games. Marcus Paige is a shell of his former self.

North Carolina just doesn't have a killer instinct.

Turns out, they do.

The Heels pulled out a tight and tough late-season game against a Syracuse team desperate for wins to secure an NCAA beth. UNC then won at Duke to close out the regular season and win an outright ACC regular season championship. It absolutely throttled a talented Notre Dame team in the ACC Tournament semifinals. And then, finally, the Heels beat Virginia at the Cavaliers' own game in the ACC Tournament Championship, grinding out a workman-like, defensive-minded win to take their first conference tournament title in eight years.

And oh yeah, that Paige guy that hadn't lived up to the hype ... lived up to the hype. He knocked down big shots, played with his old swagger and locked down UVA star guard Malcolm Brogdon on defense like no other player has this entire season.

Demons now exorcised, it's on to the NCAA Tournament. But by no means will the journey to Houston be a cakewalk.

Within minutes of the bracket coming out, the texts from my UNC buddies began. My college roommate, a lifelong Heels fan from Winston-Salem, only needed three words.

"We got hosed," the text read.

As if I didn't know what he was referring to, he clarified.

"UK in Sweet 16 is a bad draw."

This I cannot argue with. But let's remember who the University of Kentucky is this year: A young team that lost eight games and briefly dropped out of the Top 25 on its way to a second-place regular season SEC finish and league tournament title in the weakest power conference in the land.

Should the seeds play out in the first round, there's no guarantee UK will even get past Indiana in the second round. IU, the Big 10's regular season champion, will be playing with extra motivation to silence the critics after another early exit from its conference tournament.

After UNC gets past the UK/IU winner, the Heels have No. 2 Xavier or No. 3 West Virginia standing between it and another Final Four appearance. With two seeds like Oklahoma and Michigan State in other parts of the bracket, I'm not sure I agree with my old UNC pal that the Heels "got hosed" by the selection committee.

So, I'm on the record. I'm flying the flag. I'm singing the fight song and I'm rocking my Carolina Blue Chuck Taylors. Because in a year when it seems like anyone can win the national championship, I believe the last team standing is going to be the one the college basketball world expected all along.

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