The Tar Heels won their league-leading 17th ACC Tournament on Sunday, using the weekend to showcase their many talents. National Player of the Year Tyler Hansbrough added the Tournament MVP award to his trophy case with a 26-point, 9-rebound performance against Virginia Tech on Saturday, including a game-winning 12-footer with 0.8 seconds left.
Wayne Ellington proved that North Carolina has a legitimate perimeter presence, scoring 24 points on 10-of-13 shooting in the finals, while Ty Lawson played his best game since an ankle injury sidelined him on Feb. 3, posting 12 points, eight assists and five rebounds against Clemson.
And on top of the individual performances, North Carolina held the Hokies and the Tigers to a combined 41.9 field goal percentage over the weekend, suggesting that this team does, in fact, know a thing or two about defense.
The Tar Heels have plenty of ammunition to win in Texas, and they know it, which is why they were not overly excited about claiming the title in Charlotte at Bobcats Arena.
"We showed that we were here to take care of business," Ellington said. "I think last year we came into this tournament and we were new to tournament play and weren't really sure what tournament play was about. Now we understand that, and now we're ready to go on to the next tournament and come with a business-like approach there and win it all."
Senior point guard Quentin Thomas – the lone remaining scholarship player on the 2005 national championship team – may have summed it up best during the postgame press conference.
"It's a good feeling, but we feel that it is not enough," Thomas said. "We want to achieve one more goal, and that is a national championship."
One reason that the Tar Heels should have been ecstatic about their ACC Tournament victory is that it secured the No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament's East Region – North Carolina's 12th No. 1 seed in the history of the event. The importance of that particular region is that the Tar Heels have the opportunity to play in Charlotte for the rights to punch their tickets to San Antonio, provided they survive the first two rounds of tournament action in Raleigh, N.C., next weekend.
"That's what we want," Ellington said. "We want to go ahead and get back here and cut those nets down [again], and then move on to San Antonio and cut those down."
But Hansbrough cautioned his teammates about the prospect of returning to Charlotte for a chance to reach the Final Four, indicating that winning the first two games are not a given.
"I don't want to look ahead too much, because we still have to play other places before we get to Charlotte," Hansbrough said.
The junior All-American foreshadowed a twist that caught most Tar Heels fans off guard, and that was seeing a stout opponent waiting in the second round, assuming North Carolina rolls past the winner of the play-in game between Coppin St. (16-20) and Mt. St. Mary's (18-14).
No. 8 seed Indiana and No. 9 seed Arkansas both provide a serious challenge for North Carolina on Sunday. The 24th-ranked Hoosiers boast the Big Ten Player of the Year (D.J. White) and the Big Ten Freshman of the Year (Eric Gordon), while the Razorbacks have defeated No. 6 Tennessee once and No. 16 Vanderbilt twice in the last three weeks.
But truth be told, every game in the NCAA Tournament is a dogfight, which is the primary reason that an instate I-85 journey to the Final Four is pivotal for the Tar Heels, because they've got everything else they need for the road trip.
"They're built for a title run," Clemson head coach Oliver Purnell said. "I don't think there's any doubt about that."