What do Santa Clara, Boston College and Michigan have in common? Santa Clara defeated the 2005 Carolina team in game 3 of that season. Boston College defeated UNC in Chapel Hill in the first conference game in the 2009 season and Michigan defeated North Carolina early in the 1993 season. The end result of those North Carolina teams? A National Championship.
Just as recent as 2009, the Tar Heels lost in the ACC Tournament to Florida State and in 2005, the same result to Georgia Tech. In 1993, UNC lost back to back conference games to Wake Forest and Duke midway through the conference season. And yes, the reaction by fans and media were the same. Has Carolina lost momentum, are they over rated, is this a National Championship team? North Carolina proceeded to answer those questions in a resounding manner.
Obviously, this is a different team but still an overwhelming favorite to cut down the nets in New Orleans this season. That has not changed. But when you are on the Mt. Rushmore of College basketball, this is the reaction you get from media and fans and certainly those who wish for them to fail. That is only natural when you have as much laundry hanging from the rafters as this program.
If you have followed the North Carolina program for any period of time, this should not be a shock to you. It is a marathon, not a sprint. Did anyone really think this team was going to run the table? It has been 35 years since the Indiana team coached by Bobby Knight accomplished that feat. Teams lose games. Quite frankly, you could see a loss coming. This team has not played anywhere near where they will need to be to compete for a National Championship. With the exception of a couple games, they have not shot the ball well from behind the three point arch. They have not shot the ball as well as they are capable from the field in most games and have struggled at the free throw line. But it is early, like any season it is a work in progress. Roy Williams knows this as well as anyone. His teams are generally at peak heading towards March. Championships are not won or lost in November, this is not College Football.
If this team stays healthy, they are one of a small handful of teams who are capable of winning a National Championship. That doesn't guarantee anything, there is a lot of work to be done but this team should have those expectations. It doesn't matter what the media says, it doesn't matter what those who cheer for them to fail say or even some of their own fans. A year ago, I sat and listened to some people claim that Harrison Barnes was over rated. Time proved that those individuals were clueless when it came to knowledge of College Basketball. So my advice to fans of this team? Let it roll off of you, history is on the side of the Tar Heels and that is precisely why people will take shots at the team and their fans. The fact that the reaction has been so strong to one loss only validates North Carolina's place in the College Basketball landscape. I find it interesting that you don't hear loads of attacks coming from the Duke camp or even the Kentucky camp. Some, but not in huge volumes. The reason? Fans of those programs understand history, they understand the voyage and have traveled down the same path as North Carolina. And while they certainly smile on the news of a Tar Heel loss, they know that Carolina will be in the mix when March comes around.
A greater concern should be the status of Harrison Barnes who rolled his ankle in the UNLV loss and left the arena on crutches. All indications are that it was a precautionary measure and he will be evaluated in Chapel Hill. After the injury, he waved off a trainer and did come back in the game but did not shoot the ball particularly well. A key stretch of the out of conference schedule faces the Tar Heels this week with games at home against Wisconsin and on the road at Kentucky. But this is all a part of the journey in the drama known as Carolina basketball.