North Carolina isn’t the most talented team in the NCAA Tournament field nor are the Tar Heels the deepest. They have 10 losses and none of the TV talking heads are picking them to reach the Final Four.
None of the pundits are even mentioning the Heels other than glossing over them when discussing the West Region, which is where UNC is the No. 2 seed and will open play Friday in Charlotte versus Lipscomb.
What everyone appears to be overlooking are elements to the Tar Heels not one other team in the field comes close to possessing:
None of the other 67 teams have a Most Outstanding Player of a Final Four, but Carolina does.
None of the other 67 teams also have an MOP of a regional, but Carolina does.
And none of the other 67 teams also have a jack-of-all-trades who engineered a second-round NCAA victory, made the drive and pass leading to the regional final heroics that secured the second MOP noted above, or who also tapped out a key missed free throw with mere seconds left in the Final Four fortifying UNC’s spot in the national championship game a year ago, but Carolina does.
Also, none of the other 67 teams have as many as 13 NCAA Tournament wins in its senior class, but Carolina does.
Joel Berry only exists on one roster, UNC’s. Berry was the MOP of last year’s Final Four in leading the Tar Heels to the national championship. In addition, Berry is the first player in more than 40 years to score 20 or more points in consecutive national title games. He simply stands alone on the current college landscape.
Luke Maye is one of two active players in the field who has previously been the MOP of a regional, as he won the honor in Memphis last year when Carolina captured the South Regional on his 18 footer with .3 seconds remaining. It may be the greatest shot ever in Carolina history, which says a mouthful. Only Gonzaga senior Johnathan Williams has also been a regional MOP, as he garnered the honor in the West last season.
Theo Pinson is UNC’s Swiss army knife who triggered UNC’s comeback win to close out Arkansas 12-0 in the second round of the NCAA Tournament last March. A week later, after Kentucky tied the score with a few seconds left, he expertly pushed the ball up the court perfectly feeding Maye for that historic game-winning jumper.
Six days after that, Pinson tapped out a missed free throw by Kennedy Meeks with 5.8 seconds left and the Heels leading by a point over Oregon in the national semifinals. Joel Berry caught Pinson’s tap-out and went to the line. UNC won 77-76 and two nights later won the national title.
Carolina’s seniors, Pinson and Berry, have been a part of 13 NCAA Tournament wins, three more than the next closest senior class, which is Gonzaga’s with 10, and that includes only Silas Mason who has been there all four seasons.
Berry and Pinson are 13-2 in NCAA play, the other challengers that compare the most are Duke’s Grayson Allen at 9-2, Kansas 7-3, Michigan 6-3, Xavier 6-3 and Michigan State 5-3. Villanova is 8-2 during the stretch but has no seniors of note and Kentucky is 9-3 but has no scholarship seniors on its roster.
If you’ve watched UNC all season you’re well aware of the Tar Heels’ smarts and grit, that they don’t get rattled – how else can you explain a team notching victories after allowing runs 19-0 and 14-0 away from home – and that they are as well connected to their Hall of Fame coach as any team in the nation.
Carolina may not have any sure-fire NBA first rounders on its roster and it may not get much out of its bench, but the been-there-done-that cadre of intangibles the Tar Heels will take to Charlotte is unrivaled because none of the other 67 teams has it.
But Carolina does.