GREENSBORO — North Carolina, I’m afraid, is spoiled.
This was supposed to be the bridge year.
You don’t just lose four players who were selected in the first 17 picks of the NBA Draft – as the Tar Heels did after last year – and play elite basketball the next season.
But elite is what the Tar Heels were for most of the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament championship game on Sunday.
Don’t misunderstand me – it’s a great type of spoiled to be.
In February, this team played like the inexperienced, immature team that it was.
But to see North Carolina spar with Miami – a complete, veteran squad that twice proved it’s the ACC’s best – to see the Tar Heels match that level, to refrain from cowering to swings of energy and to play some truly awesome basketball in stretches can only be encouraging.
I’ve never seen North Carolina coach Roy Williams as mad as he was after the Tar Heels’ loss to N.C. State on Jan. 26, a game in which North Carolina flat out didn’t compete in the first half.
The Tar Heels showed up to their biggest game at that point DOA. Williams knew it, and he knew how histeam was being viewed.
“Ninety percent of the people in this room (in the media) abandoned ship,” Williams said Sunday. “Ninety-five percent of our fans did.”
And then there was another embarrassment against Miami on Feb. 9. That was five weeks ago. It feels like five decades. Very few teams improve so drastically and so quickly. North Carolina rose to a level at which it should arrive next year, not this one.
If nobody leaves early for the NBA, North Carolina will stand an excellent chance, even with the powerful additions to the ACC, of playing on Sunday in next year’s ACC Tournament.
No matter what the No. 8 Tar Heels do against No. 9 Villanova on Friday in the South Region second round matchup, North Carolina fans ought to look favorably on this season.
There’s no more waiting on the future.
It’s already here.
Sports writer Nick Piotrowicz can be reached at 407-9952 or email@example.com