When college basketball’s postseason officially begins on Tuesday evening — on the men’s side — a familiar face will be missing from the fields as the NIT and the NCAA Tournament will tip off. North Carolina’s season is over. And it’s not just because they weren’t good enough to make the field of 68, it’s because head coach Hubert Davis tucked his tail and hid after leading his program to the most disappointing season in college basketball history.
Almost exactly five months to the day after being named the preseason No. 1 team in the country, the 2022-2023 North Carolina Tar Heels will go down in history as the only team in the modern era to go from being the favorite to not even qualifying for the Big Dance.
Yes, the team that was 20 minutes away from winning a national title last season — but didn’t because they blew a 15-point halftime lead to Kansas — somehow thinks they’re too good to play in the NIT.
“It’s not a great feeling,” Davis said after UNC lost to Virginia in the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament, after beating them two weeks earlier. “Not the expectations that we had coming into the year. It was definitely frustrating and disappointing, but one thing I can say about this group is we fight to the end.”
Focus on the “fight to the end” part, given that Davis chose to do the opposite.
“All season, our focus and goal have been on being the best team we can possibly become and reaching our full potential to give us another opportunity to compete, play for and win an NCAA championship, Davis wrote in a statement about why his team was turning down the NIT. “Although we no longer have that opportunity and this season wasn’t what we had hoped for, I want to thank our players and staff for their hard work and love for Carolina Basketball. Many factors go into postseason play, and we believe now is the time to focus on moving ahead, preparing for next season and the opportunity to again compete for ACC and NCAA championships. I also want to thank our great fans for their incredible support. Our commitment to you is what drives us to improve our program in every way.”
Not a good look for Carolina
This is a punk move and bad for college basketball. It sends a bad message when one of the bluebloods of the sports acts in such a pompous way. The audacity of Davis to believe that the NIT tournament is beneath him and his program as if that very same program — and better coaches — haven’t played in it before, is an example of how deliberately obtuse he’s been during his tenure.
Back in 2009-2010, the Tar Heels were also coming off a national championship game appearance — which they won. However, UNC finished that year with a 20-17 record and fell to Dayton in the title game of the NIT. Roy Williams, a coach with two national titles on his resume at the time, didn’t think the NIT was below him.
“It’s a tough feeling right now, there’s no question about that. It’s been an unusual year for North Carolina basketball,” Williams said after UNC lost to Dayton in the finals. “I’ve lived a charmed life in the past, and this has been a little tougher. I’m so proud of our guys for coming to play in this National Invitation Tournament and playing so well up until today and getting us to this point. We just didn’t finish the job.”
A few seasons later, Kentucky — another blueblood of the sport that’s led by a coach with a better resume than Davis’ — participated in the NIT a year after they won a national title. Kentucky lost in the first round and took their appearance and loss on the chin, even if John Calipari was upset with what transpired on the court.
“They haven’t had any discipline all year,” he said after the loss. “We ended on a note we’ve been talking about (all year). We can’t really play (disciplined).”
To put things into perspective, of the four true bluebloods of men’s college basketball, North Carolina has been having a harder go of it lately — despite playing in a national championship game last season — as they’ve lost 23 games over the past two seasons. During that same span, Duke can lose 16, Kansas could have 14 defeats, and Kentucky could end up with 20.
And to think, somebody over at Sports Illustrated had the bright idea to remake the cover from North Carolina’s 1981-1982 team — that won a national championship — with this one, that stuck up their noses at the NIT out of embarrassment and hurt egos.
Hubert Davis needs to get his house in order before he ends up like Matt Doherty.
Carron J. Phillips