Tar Heels use NCAA seeding slap as motivation for 1st round game
Plenty of teams offer great reaction shots and raucous celebrations during the NCAA Tournament’s selection show. North Carolina is never one of them.
UNC has appeared in 43 previous tournaments, and expectations are too high for the players to jump up and down just for seeing their name in the bracket.
Even so, when the team gathered at Coach Roy Williams’ house Sunday night to watch the selection show, its reaction was particularly subdued.
“I don’t mind telling you I was stunned when I saw North Carolina in the No. 8,” Williams said. “It took me a couple seconds, ‘Hey that’s us, it’s not somebody else, that’s us.’
The Tar Heels (24-10) will face No. 9 Villanova Friday in Kansas City (7:20 p.m., TNT), with the winner all but certainly playing No. 1 Kansas on Sunday.
UNC finished 17th in the NCAA’s official RPI, but ended up 29th when the selection committee released its rankings of all 68 NCAA Tournament teams.
Soon enough, the team started applauding after finding out its fate. But Williams received another surprise when he realized the potential Round of 32 opponent was Kansas, where he coached for 15 years. The Jayhawks beat the Tar Heels in the regional finals last season and are based about 45 minutes from the Sprint Center in Kansas City.
“You say ‘Wow,’ but I’m thinking about Villanova, I really am,” Williams said. “It was a surprise being No. 8, it was a little surprise going to play in Kansas City if you win one game, but if you start thinking about playing Kansas in Kansas City, you forget about the biggest duty, and that’s to win a game to even get there.”
Division I men’s basketball committee chair Mike Bobinski said that the committee took into consideration UNC’s strong finish — the Tar Heels won eight of their last 10 games — but that wasn’t enough to overcome a lack of success against top teams.
“There weren’t a preponderance of really, really high-quality wins,” Bobinski said on UNC athletic director Bubba Cunningham’s radio show Monday. “And I think that more than anything was the deciding factor in how we ultimately seeded.”
The Tar Heels finished 2-8 against NCAA Tournament teams, including an 0-6 mark against top two seeds Miami, Duke and Indiana. UNC split with No. 8 N.C. State, beat No. 5 UNLV at home and lost to No. 6 Butler on a neutral court.
Bobinski also said UNC was placed in Kansas’s region because it couldn’t go in the East with Miami or in the Midwest with Duke, and the South region was closer than the West, where Gonzaga is the No. 1 seed. He said Williams’ or UNC’s history with Kansas played no part in setting up what could be the most high-profile matchup in the Round of 32.
Williams said he didn’t think the NCAA put UNC in Kansas City to sell tickets, since the Jayhawks fans will take care of that. But he didn’t seem sold on the committee’s explanation, either.
“They can say anything they want to say and they have numbers to substantiate it and you can sit right across the table from them and substantiate it with some other numbers,” Williams said. “I don’t know what goes through their minds. It was a confusing show, and I am still confused, and I’m a fairly intelligent person.”
Still, there’s nothing to do now but prepare for Villanova. Senior Dexter Strickland said the Tar Heels will look to use the No. 8 seed as motivation.
“I was also kind of disappointed,” Strickland said. “Of course we wanted the higher seed, but I think it kind of helped us also because it kind of put anger in everybody to go out there and prove to everybody that we deserve a higher seed.”
NOTES — After playing three games in three days at the ACC Tournament, the team took Monday off while assistant Steve Robinson prepared the scouting report on the Wildcats. When asked before Tuesday’s practice what they knew about Villanova, Strickland said nothing, while P.J. Hairston responded: “They’re from Philly.” … Hairston received eight stitches on his left (non-shooting) hand after tearing the webbing between his ring and middle fingers on Friday. He was initially told he would need to wear bandages on his hand for 5-7 days, so he was hopeful they would come off either before or immediately after the Villanova game. … The team is leaving for Kansas City tonight. Fans are encouraged to send off the team as it departs from Gate D of the Smith Center a little after 5 p.m., and parking is available in the Manning Lot.