“You see it,” said Bobby Frasor, speaking to the level of NCAA Tournament play. “That passion, that intensity, that emotion – every game is prime time now.”
UNC (28-6) will face the Colonels at approximately 9:50 p.m. on Thursday at Lawrence Joel Coliseum, where the Tar Heels are 4-0 in NCAA Tournament competition. The game will be televised by CBS.
No other team has been awarded as many No. 1 seeds (11) as the Tar Heels, who have reached a record 16 Final Fours. Yet seeking its second title in three years, this team couldn’t be more different from the one that cut down the nets in St. Louis in 2005.
“This team didn’t start out with any of the experience or the turmoil or adversity,” Williams said. “It’s an extremely young team. That team just got on a tremendous run.”
Only three players can draw on what it was like to win it all in 2005, but everyone except the freshmen can remember what it felt like to walk off the court as a No. 3 seed in Dayton last March following a 65-60 upset at the hands of 11th-seeded George Mason.
Williams said he won’t have to bring that up this week. The sophomores, juniors and seniors will make sure the freshmen are aware of how unpalatable the feeling can be.
“[I remember] everybody’s head in a towel, nobody talking, everybody just shocked and disappointed that that was the end - that was it,” Marcus Ginyard recalled of the locker room atmosphere after last year's NCAA loss. “It was tough to swallow. It was something you never want to go through again.”
“You can see how quickly it ends,” Frasor added. “We were looking ahead ... you can't look ahead.”
Perhaps an indication of better karma, this is the first time since 1982 that Carolina has won both the ACC regular season and tournament championships in the same year.
Williams said he is getting a little tired of hearing about how difficult it can be to win both the league tourney and the national title.
“Do I mind knowing we have to win nine games in row to win the thing? No, Florida won 11 in a row last year and they got it done,” he said. “Three years ago, UConn won their conference tournament. If what you did yesterday seems big to you, you’re not doing very much today. That’s the way we’re going to look at it.”
The promise UNC’s freshmen brought with them to Chapel Hill seems to be coming around in time for the postseason, as evidenced by Brandan Wright, Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington being named to the ACC All-Tournament Team.
Wright shot 68.8 percent (22-for-32), Lawson had an assist-to-turnover ratio of 5.0 in the three games and Ellington averaged 14.7 points.
“[Lawson] could have very easily been the MVP,” Williams said. “I don’t think Ol’ Roy did anything that necessarily shook him up; I just think the kid’s playing better basketball.”
Williams admitted that he thinks his team is playing its best basketball of the season heading into the Tournament.
"We've had some great performances," he said. "We played pretty doggone well."
And Carolina may now have the experience necessary for the biggest challenge of the year.
"What we’ve got to understand is we’re just playing one game,” Williams said. “I’m trying to get them to play one game. I will not speak of winning six games or winning the NCAA Tournament.
“We’re going to have some fun today at practice. We’ll break out in a sweat, and then we’ll tell them, ‘You’ve had two days of everybody patting you on the back and you feel good about yourself. Now, let’s really go to work.'"