by Barry Jacobs, GoHeels.com
The first full weekend of play in the NCAA tournament proved the acuity of Roy Williams' comments about the unfairness of North Carolina's eighth seed in the South Region.
"I don't mind telling you, I was stunned when I saw North Carolina in the number eight (berth)," Williams said of seeing the selections unveiled and explained. "It was a confusing show and I'm still confused."
A strong argument could be made the Tar Heels, winners of eight of 10 games entering the NCAA tournament, 12 of 16 in the conference during the regular season, and 24 overall, were eminently deserving of a seed higher than eighth. Reaching the ACC Tournament final surely burnished a fine stretch run.
Then again, a clear and chronic lack of respect for the ACC doubtless reduced such achievements in the eyes of the selection committee.
The night that bids were announced, after expressing appreciation for being included in the 68-team field, culminating months of hard work and improvement, Williams took the opportunity to defend the quality of ACC competition. The league apparently needs as many leaders as possible to speak up on its behalf.
"I am somewhat surprised and disappointed that only four ACC teams are in the field and that the league only received two number twos and two number eight seeds," Williams said in a press release, referring to Miami, Duke, UNC, and N.C. State, respectively. "I think the ACC deserved better than that."
The sense of being snubbed is nothing new. For years, the ACC's reduced standing in the eyes of tournament selectors has been painfully evident.
Step back a moment and take the long view.
A majority of ACC members were awarded NCAA bids all but once between 1984 through 1998. That's 14 times in 15 seasons. Since 1999, another 15-year span that includes this season, the ACC earned such widespread representation only four times.
Other than UNC or Duke, Miami was the first ACC squad since 1995 to finish alone in first during the regular season and then advance to win the ACC Tournament. Yet the Hurricanes were also the first in league history to achieve that feat without being rewarded with a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
That treatment contrasts with the four times since 2005 that Carolina was both the undisputed first-place finisher and the ACC Tournament champions and got a top seed in the NCAAs. The Blue Devils were similarly rewarded three times since 2000. But not Miami. Not this year.
This is the first time since 2003, a year before Williams returned to Chapel Hill, that the ACC didn't have a No. 1 seed in the NCAA field. This is also the fourth time in the last eight seasons the conference got only four bids.
Then there's the matter of UNC's seed, a factor more significant than where the Tar Heels were forced to play. "You've heard me say this a hundred times, it's what it is so we've got to go play," Williams said of being sent to Kansas City.
Meanwhile, as Williams well knew, being tabbed an eight or nine, rather than a five or six seed, often spells the difference between a quick exit and a deep tournament run.
Win one game as an eight or nine, and the top seed, one of four teams deemed the best in the field, is your next opponent. That was UNC's fate -- a meeting with Kansas following a defeat of Villanova.
Three of four winners of 2013 matchups between eight and nine seeds were eliminated in the next round by the No. 1 teams in their region. The sole exception was No. 9 Wichita State, which topped Gonzaga in the West.
The last time UNC was seeded eighth was 2000, when the Tar Heels ousted No. 1 Stanford en route to the Final Four. A decade before that, the 1990 Heels were an eight that bumped No. 1 Oklahoma.
This year's squad, youthful and perimeter-oriented, wasn't so lucky.
Ultimately, as Williams noted, wherever a team is seeded it still has to play the games. Focusing too much on matters over which it has no control is a recipe for disaster.
When building and rebuilding toward championship runs, experiences good and bad inevitably become part of the mix. This year's two-game NCAA adventure will surely be cited as inspiration next season, an impetus to build toward better things.
The core members of the '13 squad will recall vividly the bitter taste of defeat on a stage they long dreamed of reaching. But there will also be the satisfaction of knowing first-hand the distance from participation to triumph, and an inkling of how to get there.