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Fourth and Long

I have to admit that while it is normal for this life long Tar Heel to be nervous as the team closes out the regular season and begins tournament play I find myself more nervous that any other year I can remember.

Watching the Tar Heels this season has been a bit like watching The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. You can never really be sure as to which UNC squad is going to show up to play on any given day. While the amount of talent Carolina has in undeniable they have at times played without much heart.

This was particularly true early in the season and showed in a 10 point loss to UNLV in Las Vegas. It was also evident in 3 point victory over Wisconsin later that week.

It was never more clear the Tar Heels were lacking pride than when they traveled to Tallahassee and toted a 33 point tail whoopin’ at the hands of Florida State. Are the Seminoles a good and well coached basketball team? You bet they are. Is there anyone in America that thinks Florida State is 33 points better than the Tar Heels? Do you think the Seminoles are 1 point better than UNC? I think not.

The only reasonable explanation for these results is a lack of focus, heart and pride.

Carolina isn’t always lacking, sometimes it’s only for short stretches of time. Take for example the end of the first game against Duke in Chapel Hill. UNC held a double digit lead with just a few minutes remaining yet the Blue Devils fought their way back to win using outside shooting, solid defense and an abundance of “testicular fortitude”. All three were key ingredients that the Tar Heels seemed to be missing when it mattered most.

Just when I was ready to define this team as an incredibly talented yet inevitably underachieving squad the Tar Heels sit Mr. Hyde and start Dr. Jekyll against Duke in the final game of the regular season.

UNC played aggressively from the opening tip and showed a killer instinct that had been lacking throughout the season. The Heels held a 48-24 advantage going into halftime and managed to avoid the same mistakes in the second half they had made earlier in the season.

Duke made two strong runs after the break yet the Tar Heels never took their foot off the gas and continued to attack the Blue Devils on both ends of the court. The result was an 18 point victory over their biggest rival on the road.

Leave it up to Carolina to wait until the final game of the regular season to play their best game of the year. When UNC combines their overwhelming talent with the heart necessary to impose their will on opponents I truly believe they can beat any college basketball team in the country.

That is what makes me nervous. It’s not a matter of if they can win it all but a question of whether they are willing to sacrifice enough to win it all.

If they gave out banners for most talent we would have more than 6 hanging in the Dean Smith Center. If this team wants to be considered the best they are going to have to want it more than anyone else.

As they enter postseason play I hope they reflect on the words of new UNC football Head Coach Larry Fedora, “you get what you earn, not what you deserve”.

In the meantime I will watch it all play out and continue to be nervous. I love March.

David Friedman is a long-time contributor to Roanoke-Chowan Publishing. A Bertie High School graduate, he and his wife currently reside in Wilmington. David can be reached via e-mail at dave@gate811.net.