WILL THE REAL TAR HEELS PLEASE STAND UP?

This season was one wild roller coaster ride for Coach Guthridge and the North Carolina Tar Heels.
Struggling through a tough early schedule and the tough ACC at one point it looked like Carolina
might miss the NCAA Tournament. Finishing the regular season with a tournament loss to Wake Forest
left the Tar Heels with an 18-13 record and many felt that their play did reflect a team that
deserved to be in the Tournament.

Yet, after struggling through the regular season, Coach Guthridge and his troops put together a
fabulous run through the NCAA Tournament, which resulted in a spot in the Final Four. They were
like two different teams. Tabbed with the label of being a talented team that underachieved, the
Heels got a wake up call in the tourney. Which was truly reflective of the true Tar Heels? Both.

The team did underachieve during the regular season. They seemed to have a difficult time finding
their true identity. Injuries also played a role in their struggles and the tough schedule was a
trek that most coaches wouldn’t take. They were an 18-13 team. A good 18-13 team but still an 18-13
team. Then came Missouri.

One of the biggest reasons for Carolina’s run in the tournament was their first round opponent.
Not because Missouri was so bad and they needed an easy game to get them going in the right
direction. Missouri was a Godsend from the Selection Committee because of the match-up. Missouri
had excellent guard play and little inside strength. Missouri did not have a soul that could
match-up with Brendan Haywood’s size. This forced the Tar Heels to use their inside strength.
Brendan Haywood had a field day. This Tar Heel could not be stopped by the smaller Tigers. It
was his coming out party and the wake-up call that Coach Guthridge and his staff had been
waiting for. The fact of the matter is that they had an inside force — when playing to his
abilities — that was difficult for any team in the country to handle. Playing Missouri helped
Haywood and the Heels gain confidence. They went inside first and Forte’s game opened up on the
perimeter. Capel could hit perimeter shots as he got to set his feet while his man was worried
about helping down on Haywood and Cota was his steady self — handling the ball flawlessly and
putting on a show for everyone to enjoy.

The pressing style of Florida finally caught up with the Heels but they finally found out where
their strength was and force-fed it down opponents’ throats on their way to the Final Four. If
they had played that way all season long, they would not have ended the year with 14 losses.

The real Tar Heels finally stood up. Next time they mention the Final Four in 2000, they should
remember Mizzou and thank the basketball gods for the perfect first round match-up.