Carolina Gunning for Title

RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina guard Wayne Ellington wasted no time laying the Tar Heels' lofty expectations on the interview table Thursday.

The nation's top-ranked team expects much more than last year, when the Tar Heels lost to Georgetown in the Elite Eight. Their goal is the Final Four. Nothing else would be acceptable.

"We've been through this before and we know what it takes," Ellington said. "So for us not to get farther than we did last year, yeah, it would be a disappointment for our team."

The talented Tar Heels (32-2) will try to take their first step tonight, when they open NCAA Tournament play against No. 16 seed Mount St. Mary's (19-14) in the RDC Center at 6:10. The winner advances to play Indiana or Arkansas.

Expectations are obviously high after the Tar Heels pulled off an impressive double. North Carolina won the Atlantic Coast Conference regular season crown and followed it with a tournament title last weekend.

So now, North Carolina — which is led by Naismith player of the year candidate Tyler Hansbrough — is chasing its second national title in four years.

"It's the time of year we're all waiting for and this is what we work for," point guard Ty Lawson said.

The road won't be easy with a potential second round game against either Arkansas or Indiana. The East Regional also boasts powerful teams like No. 2 seed Tennessee and No. 3 Louisville.

But the Tar Heels said they're motivated to bury the memories of last season's loss in the NCAA tournament, when the No. 1 seed was eliminated by the Hoyas in the Elite Eight. North Carolina labeled the loss a learning experience because three starters on this North Carolina team — Lawson, Ellington and forward Deon Thompson — were freshmen.

"I feel a lot more confident, more mature, more prepared, just all those things," Ellington said. "I just feel like we're ready."

North Carolina will have plenty of help, too, playing in front of a home crowd on N.C. State's court.

The Raleigh arena is no more than 30 minutes from their Chapel Hill campus, leaving the arena filled with Carolina Blue. And if the Tar Heels win both games, they'll stay in the state next week and play in the East Regional Finals in Charlotte.

On paper, North Carolina's path to the Final Four is shorter than anyone else in the country. So expectations should be high. But Williams said his team better understand it can be dangerous as well.

"I think we are much more mature this year so hopefully we will be able to handle adversity better than we did last year," Williams said. "I think this team did handle adversity better in the regular season better than last year's team did.

"So hopefully we can do it in the tournament as well."

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