Thad: Emphatic & Satisfying

North Carolina won the NCAA men's basketball tournament for the fifth time on Monday night. No triple overtime, no bizarre ending, no late-game heroics required; for the first time ever, Carolina won the final game in a blowout.

For Carolina basketball fans, that final game was eminently satisfying to watch. Carolina could have played a fairly sloppy finale and still beaten Michigan State. Few would have complained if that had happened, but it was so much better to see this group of players finally realize their full potential as a team by delivering a sublime 20 minutes of basketball in the first half. Simply put, that was a performance equal to or better than anything in the history of Carolina basketball.

One consequence of winning in such a fashion is that things felt a little different for fans at the end compared to previous times Carolina has won the tournament. There was little sense of disbelief that the Heels had done it; nor was there the rush that comes from pulling out a close game. For some long-time fans, the "high" this time wasn't quite as high as the previous occasions Carolina has won the title.

That's just fine, and in fact it's a sign of progress. Each of the Tar Heels' previous titles had layers upon layers of meaning attached to it: the bid for perfection in 1957, finally getting Dean Smith a title in 1982, offering a response to Duke's back-to-back run and getting Smith a second in 1993, redeeming a group of players that had gone 8-20 and getting Roy Williams his first title in 2005.

The narrative attached to this year's team is a little more mundane. The first part of the narrative is simply that Carolina had the best team and deserved to win. The second part is that it represented the culmination of Tyler Hansbrough's incredible career, the capstone on a four-year period in which Hansbrough defined Carolina basketball and set a standard for effort, intensity, toughness, consistency, and sheer domination that will be the benchmark for the next generation of Carolina basketball players. No one wanted to imagine Hansbrough's career ending any other way.

Finally, the title represented the final step of a group journey taken by the core group of players over the past three years—Hansbrough, Lawson, Ellington, Green, Thompson, Frasor and (in absentia) Ginyard. This was a group that had won so many games, yet remained saddled in many fans' eyes by two horrible losses (Georgetown in 2007, Kansas in 2008). Lawson, Ellington, and Green all rounded into excellent—in the case of Lawson, extraordinary—players in their own right. Thompson delivered key baskets throughout the tournament. And perhaps most remarkable of all, Frasor found a way to become an essential contributor to this team even without shooting the basketball very well, delivering one of the all-time great hustle performances against Villanova in the semifinal. Frasor played 42 minutes in the Final Four, a triumphant end to a career wracked by injuries.

All that should be meaning enough, and ample reason for fans to feel enormous satisfaction about what this team has accomplished. Further, in sheer basketball terms what this team accomplished was extraordinary; to win every NCAA Tournament game by double-digits is an awesome achievement, one that might not happen again for a long, long time.

The fact is, the reason previous national titles have been such overwhelming emotional experiences is because Carolina's had so many great teams that didn't win it. That has happened so often then when the Tar Heels did actually win the whole thing, it felt like a miracle to Tar Heel fans.

This time, actually winning the tournament wasn't much of a miracle, rather it was having such a talented, determined, and likeable team to start with, punctuated by a great senior class and the outstanding Tar Heel of this generation, Tyler Hansbrough. Roy Williams wasn't exaggerating in the least when he described how lucky he has been to coach this group of players.

Carolina fans have been equally fortunate to be able to cheer them on and to witness a story that began with a nail-biting win over Gardner-Webb in November 2005 come to the most satisfying possible conclusion in April 2009: a championship, delivered as emphatically and definitively as a Tyler Hansbrough dunk.


Thad Williamson is the author of "More Than a Game: Why North Carolina Basketball Means So Much To So Many" (available to read for free online). A Chapel Hill native, he operated the manual scoreboard formerly located at the end of the UNC bench between the 1982-83 and 1987-88 seasons in Carmichael and the Smith Center. He was a regular Inside Carolina contributor until taking on a full-time professor position a couple years ago at the University of Richmond.


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