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Is that the University of Carolina in the basement of the Atlantic Coast Conference, sure is in not one of the men’s basketball program’s better years that will keep it sidelined from March Madness

By Arnie Leshin 
Arnie Leshin

Just to identify the correct school, it’s the University of North Carolina’s men’s basketball team that is in sole possession of last place in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Believe it, check the standings, notice that the Tar Heels won’t be invited to the “Big Dance, the March Madness, not even the National Invitational Tournament.

First, forget the NIT, which only invites schools at .500 or better, and UNC is already at six games under that and only five regular-season games remaining. The NCAA? Well, it’s in the discussion only if it wins the conference tournament, and with four games in five days, it’s not good enough to handle this, especially when each opponent would be a higher seed with a better regular season in its favor.
Is this a nightmare, well it sure is for their fans young and old. Certainly it is for head coach Roy Williams. But not so for their rivals, the Dukes of the nation.
Suffering with this are former elite Tar Heel players, namely Michael Johnson, James Worthy, Vince Carter, Bob Mcadoo, Billy Cunningham, Charlie Scott, Larry Brown, Jerry Stackhouse, Kenny Smith … and the list goes on and on because this program has certainly had its share of stars.
It has won seven national championships, third behind only UCLA’s 11 and Kentucky’s eight, 18 Atlantic Coast Conference tournament titles, and it has a long tradition of players that brought great talent to the NBA.
Its main campus is in Chapel Hill, NC, and its neighbors are Duke and North Carolina State, with Wake Forest a short drive away. And not one of these rivals are pinning over the present status of the Tar Heels. Instead, they are more like ecstatic.
Monday’s ACC last-second defeat at Notre Dame dropped their overall record to 10-16, their conference mark to 3-11, their losing streak to  six. Worse, they held a 15-point lead with 8:39 remaining in regulation, and were up two when the Fighting Irish raced down court with time ticking down, and up went the shot with 2.8 left and UNC called a time out with the clock at 1.8.
Final score Notre Dame 77, North Carolina 76.
The home crowd stormed the court, not just for the exciting come from behind victory, but that it was also over North Carolina, one of the perennial powers in the country, and it didn’t matter that this version was surprisingly unranked.
In the post-game media interview, Williams was acting like the world, or his world, was falling apart. He was mystified, angry, called on some bleep words, and let it known that his team hasn’t quit, will play hard every remaining game, and then apologized, said thank you, and left the podium in rapid order.
Just think, 14 other schools in the conference and he’s looking up at them, a half-game behind Wake Forest. It’s an unfamiliar place to be, but that’s were they landed in this up-and-down, mostly down, woe some season.
Worse, biggest rival Duke is 22-3 overall, 12-2 in conference, and is on top of the standings. Second worse, North Carolina State is in fifth place at 16-9and 7-7, and only Wake Forest is keeping them company.
Can’t just pass all the blame Williams’ way. A former Tar Heel player, he does get half of  it because it is no doubt a coach-players nightmare. Can’t blame their fans, can’t blame the administration or the athletic department.
Can’t blame the past, because its been a good one, although after the first national championship in 1924, it took 33 years before head coach Frank McGuire assembled a roster from the New York City area, with All-America Lenny Rosenbluth from the borough of Brooklyn paving the way to a first official NCAA title.
In all, the program has had 18 head coaches, including Williams, who returned to his favorite school after several years in the same role coaching at Kansas. He had played for the late Dean Smith and then followed in his footsteps by coaching NC to national championships in 2005, 2009, and 2017. In fact Smith, who served 36 years on the sidelines and won national championships in 1982 and 1993, tutored most of the players on the elite list.
Michael Jordan, James Worthy and Sam Perkins played for Smith, all on the same team, so did Larry Brown, whose lengthy coaching years ended in 2015 at SMU where his experience and reputation pieced together some good teams, that is until he resigned upon allegations of illegal recruiting.
Jordan, regarded as one of the all-time best, is principle owner of the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets, and Worthy and Perkins teamed with Magic Johnson to bring NBA championships to Los Angeles by way of the showtime Lakers.
Vince Carter, at age 42, is still playing in the NBA with the longest tenure in the history of the league. Bob Mcadoo is still an assistant coach with the NBA’s Miami Heat, of which Billy Cunningham was one of the original owners, and he and Bobby Jones led the then-Philadelphia Warriors to an NBA title, while Kenny Smith is still on the TV tubes providing commentaries on college and pro games.
Strange, but this team won its first five games that began with a 76-65 win over Notre Dame, but then split its next its next four before dropping six in a row. It quickly fell out of the top 25 rankings.
Now losses are not good, not even the close ones that could have gone either way. There was the 79-76 setback at home to Clemson, 79-77 overtime defeat at Virginia Tech, a 71-70 tight one to visiting Boston College, a 12-point lead over Duke at home that became a 98-96 overtime loss, a 65-59 defeat at Florida State, and an embarrassing 68-64 setback before the home fans to mid-major Wofford.
Yes, these six reversals could easily have gone either way, so give Williams’ team credit for playing hard until the final buzzer, but any kind of loss, close or via routs, only drop into the losing column.
UNC has a special player in 6-foot-3 freshman guard Cole Anthony, son of former UNLV and NBA player Greg Anthony. He has led the team in scoring 11 times, with high games of 35 and 28, and in assists nine times with a high of eight. But when injuries forced him to the sidelines for 11 straight games, the team wasn’t the same.
Now he’s back and leading the way again, but he’s not going to get this team into the post-season, that’s too much to ask.
There’s also experienced 6-5 senior guard Brandon Robinson, who had to be the back court leader when Anthony was injured. Freshman forward Amando Bagot, who stands 6-10, is the tallest Tar Heel, has scrubbed the boards with 6-9 junior forward Garrison Brooks, and with a high of 15 against Alabama. Brooks brought down 13 versus Boston College.
So there’s talent there, but the UNC schedule is never easy, and although the roster lists seven seniors, Anthony, Bagot, and Brooks will hopefully be back, and that recruits will provide the lift needed to get the Tar Heels back on the right track, and that the current four freshmen, two sophomores and six juniors return.
It is rare when UNC doesn’t bring in 4-star, 5-star blue chips. Not only has it been respected in most every sport, men’s or women’s, but it’s a very good academic school in a picturesque college area, and the light blue and white supporters rally behind their teams.
And it’s easy to find. If you get lost, you would probably wind up at NC State or Duke or Wake Forest. These schools are bordered by Virginia to the north, the Atlantic Ocean to the east, Georgia and South Carolina to the south, and Tennessee to the west.
There you go and remember that nothing could be finer then to be in North Carolina.

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