About six weeks ago, the North Carolina Tar Heels lost at home to the Pittsburgh Panthers, a humiliating, Quad 4 defeat. It would have been impossible to believe it then, but since that loss, UNC has been one of the best teams in college basketball and has picked up two of the most memorable wins in program history on the way to Monday night’s NCAA Tournament championship game. Here is how the Tar Heels pulled off such a run.
Even prior to that Pitt loss on Feb. 16, all was not well in Tar Heel land. North Carolina was just 4-3 in the ACC following consecutive losses to Miami and Wake Forest in January. People were openly questioning if first-year head coach Hubert Davis was the right man for this job.
Two months later, we can confidently say, yeah, he’s the man. The Tar Heels won six straight games after they played Pittsburgh. That stretch included a stunning upset of Duke in Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s final home game at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
The Tar Heels earned a No. 8 seed in the tournament because of how they started the season, not for how they finished it. They definitely have not played like a No. 8 seed in the tourney. They embarrassed No. 9 Marquette in the First Round, 95-49. They were on their way to blowing out No. 1 Baylor but, despite choking away a 26-point lead in the second half, were able to prevail in overtime. They got past No. 4 UCLA in the final minutes, 73-66, before overwhelming No. 15 St. Peter’s in the Elite Eight, 69-49.
The Tar Heels then met Coach K and Duke again, but this time in New Orleans for the Final Four. It set up as the perfect revenge game for the Blue Devils and their retiring legendary coach, but North Carolina was able to beat its arch-rival once again in an 81-77 March Madness classic.
A handful of Tar Heels have had huge star-making performances during the NCAA Tournament, but the leader is junior forward Armando Bacot. He has 30 double-doubles this season, a program record and the most by any player in Division I this year. Bacot has recorded seven consecutive double-doubles and finished with at least 20 rebounds in the Tar Heels’ Elite Eight and Final Four wins.
Guard Caleb Love is the team’s second-leading scorer at 16 points per game. He has been Mr. Big Shot in this tournament thanks to his 30-point showing against UCLA and his pivotal, game-deciding 3-pointer versus Duke on Saturday. He scored 28 points that night.
Lastly, Oklahoma transfer Brady Manek has shot 54.9% (34-for-62) during the tournament, including 47.5% from beyond the arc (19-for-40). He was on another level in the team’s Second Round thriller versus defending champion Baylor. Although he was ejected midway through the second half, Manek made his presence felt by scoring 26 points in 28 minutes.