So here’s what it’s like to be North Carolina today. You thought your biggest nemesis might be waiting in the title game. Nope, dispatched in the second round.
You expected your coach’s old team to be waiting in the semifinals. Wrong, wiped out in the Elite 8.
Perhaps this latest version of Kentucky, every bit as much March Madness royalty as your own squad would ride its super freshmen to victory over you Sunday. Sorry, Luke Maye had the final word.
And so, the mighty Tar Heels are in the Final Four for a 20th time overall, a NCAA tournament record. And they’re two wins away from finally chasing off the ghosts of 2016 when Kris Jenkins stabbed a three-point dagger in their hearts to give Villanova the title.
Gonzaga is listed as the favorite now, but how do you pick against Carolina? Their coach is the best of the four, their depth extensive. They were the winners of a conference that put eight teams into the NCAA tournament, and they just knocked off a Kentucky team that two days ago everyone was bowing down to as the new favorite to win it all.
Let’s talk depth: Six seniors dot the roster, including the aforementioned Maye, and two power-packed forwards in Kennedy Meeks (6 feet, 10 inches, 260 pounds) and Isaiah Hicks (6 feet, 9 inches, 242 pounds) who are home grown from Carolina; Meeks from Charlotte, Hicks from Oxford. Meeks is averaging 12.3 points and 9.3 rebounds, along with 1.2 blocks this year. Hicks puts in 12.1 points and 5.4 rebounds per game.
Then there’s a guy like Mayes who appeared to be just another senior on the bench until he scorched Kentucky. Then you look a bit closer at his numbers and see he’s averaging 5.8 points and 4 boards per game, but only needed 14.4 minutes to do it. He’s a perfect guy off the bench when the team needs a dose of injury. Extrapolate his numbers across a 40-minute game and you see he’s a microwaved version of someone averaging 16 points and 11 rebounds per game.
Then there’s the four-man junior class that includes its two biggest threats in Justin Jackson and Joel Berry II.
Jackson has scored in double digits in 35 of 38 games this year and is averaging a tick under 20 points a game in the tournament, along with 6.3 rebounds and 4.3 assists. Berry is doing a little bit of everything this year, averaging 14.6 points, 3.6 assists, and 1.4 steals per game. He was the spearhead of the Tar Heels’ attack against Butler in the Sweet 16, scoring 26 points on 8-of-13 shooting and 7-of-9 attempts from the free-throw line.
And there’s Roy Williams. He has two titles – 200 and 2009, two Coach of the Year wins; is in both the Basketball Hall of Fame and the College Basketball Hall of Fame, and has a ridiculous all-time record of 814-216.
Do you want to bet against this guy?