Top seed sets up UNC for redemption road

All four of UNCs national titles since the advent of seeding in 1978 were won as a No. 1 seed. It has also made five other trips to the Final Four as a top-seeded team and is 55-11 all-time when ranked No. 1 in its region

Bob Donnan—USA Today Sports
UNC coach Roy Williams cheers his team on last season while Brandon Robinson and Luke Maye watch from the bench. Robinson and Maye will have to play bigger roles for the Tar Heels in 2017-18

North Carolina’s semifinal loss to Duke in Brooklyn on Friday cost the Tar Heels a chance at adding a ACC tournament title to the regular season crown it won a week earlier.But it didn’t cost the Tar Heels a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.That’s a significant development in their quest for the most important championship, considering that all four of UNC’s national titles since the advent of seeding in 1978 were won as a No. 1 seed. It has also made five other trips to the Final Four as a top-seeded team and is 55-11 all-time when ranked No. 1 in its region.This year’s team will begin its run from the top line of the South Region bracket, where it will face 16th-seeded SWAC champion Texas Southern on Friday at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville, S.C. Game time is approximately 4 p.m.”I’m very pleased with what our team accomplished, because they don’t give those things (top seeds) away, you have to earn them,” Tar Heels coach Roy Williams said in a statement Monday night. “I think we’re a top seed for the body of work during the course of the season, winning the ACC regular season by two full games and playing a very good schedule out of conference. I’m just very pleased for our team.”UNC’s selection as the top seed in the South has drawn some criticism since the Tar Heels lost two of their three meetings with newly minted ACC tournament champion Duke, which only received a No. 2 seed in the East Region.But as NCAA selection committee chairman Mark Hollis explained on CBS’s selection show, UNC’s overall body of regular season work held more weight in the seeding process than its loss in the postseason conference tournament.He said that the Tar Heels (27-7) began last week as a “solid No. 1 team,” while the Blue Devils (27-8) entered the ACC tournament as the top-rated No. 4 seed.”When you go through the week and you’re working teams up and down the line based upon results, Duke had the largest jump by going two lines, going from the four line to the two line,” Hollis said. “As the committee was going through that process, making their votes they got stopped along the way and didn’t get to the point where they could be compared [with UNC].”Now that the seedings have been set, whether they’re popular or not, the focus has turned from where the Tar Heels are in the bracket to who they’ll be playing once the tournament begins.In addition to Texas Southern (23-11), their region also includes potential second round opponents Arkansas (25-9) and Seton Hall (21-11). Should UNC get past that matchup and advance to the regional in Memphis, their road to the Final Four could also include a Sweet 16 date with fourth-seeded Butler (23-8) and an Elite Eight showdown with either second-seeded Kentucky (29-5) or No. 3 UCLA (29-4).Between them, the Tar Heels, Wildcats and Bruins have combined for 24 national championships. That total would have been one higher if not for a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Villanova’s Kris Jenkins that denied UNC of last year’s national title.It’s a loss UNC’s veteran nucleus is openly using as motivation as it seeks redemption in this year’s tournament.”I think they should use that as motivation,” Williams said. “They know how good it felt, so use that as motivation and then if you happen to get lucky and still be playing that last Monday night, then you really can use last year as motivation. The biggest thing to me is for them to understand how much fun this time of year can be.”I asked my entire team, ‘What’s the most fun you ever had in basketball?’ Every one of them said last year — the last win over Duke to win the ACC regular season, winning the ACC Tournament and the run to the NCAA championship game. I said, ‘Let’s remember that and make sure we’re focused this year like we were last year.'”Focus has been a problem at times this season for the Tar Heels. It cost them an embarrassing loss at Georgia Tech in their ACC opener on New Year’s Eve and again on Friday against Duke when they lost their composure — and a 13-point lead — after point guard Joel Berry went to the bench with his fourth personal foul early in the second half.It’s a mistake UNC can’t afford to repeat now that tournament time has arrived and there’s no longer any margin for error.”We just have to understand that we’ve got to regroup and get back to work, because the big dance is coming up,” junior guard Theo Pinson said Friday after the Duke loss. “After this, we don’t want to feel this [disappointment] anymore.”