While that Georgetown loss was considered an exercise in offensive and defensive futility, what it really highlighted was youth and a lack of mental toughness for that squad. Using the Georgetown game as a season-long motivational tool, the Tar Heels posted an 8-1 record in games decided by five points or less or in overtime after possessing a losing record under similar circumstances in 2006-07.
"They have impressed me with their toughness, [and] they've impressed me with their willpower in making plays at crunch time and finding a way to win…," Williams said.
9) UNC's Defense – When North Carolina failed to lock down several early season out-of-conference opponents, the media ran with the notion that the Tar Heels' defense would pose a serious threat to their national title hopes. One national columnist even declared in January that UNC would not win the NCAA Tournament because of their tendency to guard only in spots. But North Carolina slowly moved up the national statistical rankings, eventually finishing second in field goal percentage defense in ACC-only games (42.4).
"I wasn't ready to jump off the building when others were about how bad our defense was," Williams said. "I just knew we had to get better and I kept saying along the lines that we would get better... So I'm not ready today to proclaim that we've got the best defensive team that I've ever coached, but I think we're getting better. I've been saying that all along."
But, then again, maybe the media was right on this one – North Carolina's final two opponents in the NCAA Tournament combined to shoot 52.9 percent (63-of-119) from the floor.
8) Roy vs. K – If there wasn't enough love between North Carolina and Duke, a late season bickering between Williams and Mike Krzyzewski would only fuel the fire. Krzyzewski was quoted as saying that his program didn't release player injuries "unlike other schools," which appeared to be an obvious punch thrown in North Carolina's direction, with its multitude of injuries throughout the ACC season.
"Regardless of what somebody else says about them having injuries too, which is a bunch of bunk, so I don't give a [flip] what somebody else says," Williams responded on his weekly radio show, and ended up on national headlines. "They can coach their own [darn] team and I'll coach my team – in case anyone had heard some statements about that."
There was only one problem – Krzyzewski never made the "unlike other schools" remark. Local radio station 850 the Buzz misquoted the Duke head coach without ever hearing the actual comments, relying on a "Duke source" for the information. Huh? Talk about much ado about nothing….
7) Injury Riddled – You know a basketball program's injury situation has gotten out of hand when its head coach spends the majority of a 25-minute press conference in the middle of the conference schedule updating the media on his players' health.
Prior to welcoming Virginia Tech to the Smith Center on Feb. 16, Williams outlined the M.A.S.H. unit that his squad had become, one player at a time – Ty Lawson (out – ankle injury), Deon Thompson (doubtful – hyper-extended left knee), Tyler Hansbrough (probable – infected toe), Marcus Ginyard (probable –sprained right ankle, turf toe on left foot), Quentin Thomas (probable – back spasms) and Danny Green (questionable – flu). Add in Bobby Frasor's ACL tear, and Wayne Ellington was the lone player in North Carolina's top-eight without an injury three weeks before postseason play.
"I've never seen anything like it, and I've never been involved in anything like it," Williams said.
6) Bobby Frasor Done for the Season – Several national media outlets picked North Carolina to win the national championship in the preseason due to their depth and experience. It helped having three capable bodies at point guard, with Lawson serving as the speed demon and Frasor acting as the savvy veteran with defensive tenacity. But when Frasor tore his left anterior cruciate ligament while he trying to make a steal with less than 10 minutes to play in the 106-70 victory over Nevada on Dec. 27, that luxury of depth vanished.
"It's been an emotional ride ," said Frasor, who did not talk to the media for two weeks after the injury. "When they first informed me that I tore my ACL, I was pretty devastated. I didn't really want to talk to anybody or hear anything from anyone. But since then, the support of family and friends and the fans – they've all talked to me and sent me letters, so now I have better spirits about it and now I'm just looking at it as an opportunity to get my entire body ready for next year."
5) Roy vs. Kansas, Part I – It was inevitable. Ever since Williams left Kansas five seasons ago, everyone knew the basketball gods would force the emotional coach to face the demons the surrounded his well-publicized past with the Jayhawks. Williams has been up front with saying that he would never schedule his former team during the regular season, and that a meeting between the two programs would have to occur in a tournament setting, which is exactly what happened when UNC and Kansas ran through their respective regions to set up a showdown in the Final Four.
The questions on the reunion were relentless in scope and volume, like flood waters sweeping through Chapel Hill.
"There's no question that I am tired of it," Williams said during his last meeting with the media prior to the game. "I hope I didn't really insult somebody. But there was a camera that was in front of me on Wednesday night as soon as we got off the bus. The first question was, ‘Coach, what about this Kansas thing?' I said, ‘You've got to be more original than that. I've only answered that about 700 times."
4) ACC Regular Season Battle – North Carolina was expected to roll through the ACC regular season, with potential challenges from Triangle rivals Duke and N.C. State, but most observers never expected the conference race to be as close as it was. When No. 2 Duke defeated No. 3 North Carolina to move to 8-0 in ACC play and take a commanding two-game lead over the Tar Heels, it appeared as though the Blue Devils had a stranglehold on the No. 1 seed in the NCAA's East Region. But despite not having Lawson for most of the month of February, the Tar Heels regrouped and took advantage of Duke losses to Wake Forest and Miami to force a winner-take-all clash in Durham in the regular season finale. North Carolina won, 76-68, using a 10-0 run to end the game and secure the No. 1 seed in the ACC Tournament.
"It hasn't been smooth – I'm one of those guys that likes to score 90-something all of the time..," Williams said about dealing with the adversities along the way. "I think what we're doing is making adjustments to what we have as opposed to what we don't have."
3) Roy vs. Kansas, Part II – North Carolina fans expected their head coach to be on the verge of an emotional breakdown when the Tar Heels faced the Jayhawks in the Final Four, but no one expected what transpired 48 hours following the 84-66 loss. When Kansas took the floor against Memphis on Monday night in the national championship game, Williams was spotted wearing a Jayhawks sticker in the crowd.
Newspapers wrote articles on the sticker, radio stations devoted entire shows to the topic, and Inside Carolina's message boards were pelted with a variety of responses – one thread even reached over 1,200 posts and 10,000 views.
"I'm pretty consistent," Williams told North Carolina's official website. "My team lost to Carolina in 1993 and I stayed and supported Carolina. My team lost to Kansas in 2008 and I stayed and supported Kansas. I am who I am. I'm thankful that I am surrounded by people who understand how I am and support me no matter what, because I realize not everyone in the world falls into that category."
2) Lawson's Ankle Injury — When Florida State's Ryan Reid pulled Lawson to the ground in the opening minutes of the Feb. 3 ACC contest in Tallahassee, no one could have forecasted the circus that would evolve from that ankle injury. It didn't help that the speedy point guard was considered a game time decision three days later against Duke, before going a number of weeks being scratched off the roster days in advance. The conspiracy theories exploded, ranging from criticism of North Carolina's training staff to questions surrounding Lawson's toughness to rumors that the Clinton, Md. product was simply protecting himself for the NBA.
Williams responded strongly to the latter thought, saying, "I don't think it's been in Ty's mind one second about something that he's trying to protect himself [against]. I think he wants to help the Tar Heels win, and frankly, if I had a player that I thought [that way], then I could keep him out a heck of a lot longer and could make him really be healthy."
Once Lawson returned to the starting lineup six weeks later, he shot back at the criticism, saying, "For people to think that, I think is outrageous. I love playing basketball. I always want to be out there and play every game, so I heard little things like that, but I just didn't pay [any] attention."
1) Hansbrough Sweeps NPOY Awards – There was plenty of debate surrounding who was the national player of the year in college basketball this season. Was it Tyler Hansbrough, the tenacious junior on pace to break nearly every statistical record of relevance in the storied Tar Heel program, or Michael Beasley, the super-talented freshman that had made Kansas State relevant on the national scene? But in the end, as many North Carolina fans hoped and expected, Hansbrough's consistent effort and staggering numbers secured not just one National Player of the Year Award, but 11 (Wooden Award, Sports Illustrated, The Sporting News, Commonwealth Club of Kentucky (Rupp Award), Basketball Times, ESPN.com, CBS/Chevrolet, the United States Basketball Writers Association of America, the Associated Press, the NABC and the Naismith Trophy) , guaranteeing that the No. 50 jersey will be retired when his days in Chapel Hill are complete.
"I'm going to go somewhere by myself whenever he leaves and just sit back and be by myself for about an hour or so," said Williams, when asked about what Hansbrough meant to him. "I'm serious – we are so lucky as a staff to have coached Tyler Hansbrough, and I know that deep down. And if he decides to come back for another year, I'm going to enjoy the dickens out of that, and if he doesn't, then I'm just going to appreciate what we had for the last three years."