A year ago, the Tigers finished the regular season with 19 wins, but only one against a KenPom top 20 opponent (Virginia Tech). They won all the games they should have, but couldn’t pull upsets against top teams. This year could not have been more different. The Tigers finished the regular season with only 15 wins, seemingly so few that they were never a real postseason contender. On the contrary, with three wins over KenPom top 20 teams (Duke, Louisville, Florida State) they were on the bubble even as the calendar turned to March. Unfortunately, a slow start with brutal home losses to Virginia Tech, South Carolina, and Miami and road struggles that included bad losses at Wake Forest and Virginia Tech (again) doomed the Tigers. A late collapse with losses at Virginia Tech and at home to Georgia sealed their fate.
Three different times, Tiger fans stormed the court after a tremendous home victory. The losing streak in Chapel Hill was ended. The often uttered refrain “if we win in Chapel Hill, the season is a success no matter what” is being put to the test. This Tiger team showed a promising upside, but even more often showed they’re unable to reach it consistently.
Now, the Tigers are looking at an #8 seed in the ACC tournament and will need at least one, more likely two wins, to sneak into the NIT. They begin with the #8 vs. #9 on game in Greensboro on Wednesday.
If the Tigers make the NIT, they’re likely too inconsistent to string together the three wins needed to reach the NIT’s final four (on top of the two ACCT wins they’d need to earn a berth). Nevertheless, this young team could benefit from postseason games to grow together so avoiding a quick elimination in the ACCT is a must. Losing in the #8 vs. #9 game and ending the year on a three-game losing streak would leave them at 15-16 overall and make the season feel like a failure, despite coming into the year expecting it to be a tough rebuilding season.
While the season has been frustrating, the ups have been fun. When we look back, it will be remembered for ending the streak in Chapel Hill. Before we turn the page to college baseball, we will hope to see the basketball program end the year with positive momentum going into what needs to be a NCAA tournament season in 2020-21.