Mike: Groundhog Day

February 2. The nation looks to a Groundhog, of all things, to predict the remainder of the winter season. Carolina fans wish it were so easy. If only we could glean from the disposition of the groundhog's shadow whether there is a prolonging ahead for this basketball season, or if spring is just around the corner.

As of today, there are exactly six weeks left in Carolina's basketball season – including the ACC Tournament. Strangely enough, averaging a victory each week (plus an assumed win over NC A&T) through the end of this span would give the Heels 18 wins. Coupled with some high profile victories and a stout RPI and strength of schedule, the general consensus is that six wins comprise the magic number to make the Tournament.

The question, then, is what to do if only 4 or five more ACC wins materialize? In the press room last Wednesday following the Tech game, a reporter joked that the Heels might be trying to become the first team in college basketball to win both the Preseason NIT and the Postseason NIT in the same year. Obviously, that is not the aim of the coaches or players, but they should establish right now that this is not even a possibility.

In other words, Carolina should "just say No" to the NIT. And they should do it now. Matt Doherty should immediately establish that there is no safety net this season, he should announce that it's the NCAA Tournament or bust, this year and any year.

You may be thinking that this is an irrational idea, but hear me out. Yes, it is an accomplishment for a team that went 8-20 the previous year and that is the youngest group in all Division I to even make the NIT while playing in the ACC. That is a true and accurate statement unless the name on the jersey says "North Carolina."

The days where Carolina making the NIT would be an accomplishment vanished somewhere between 1975 and 2000. Extra games would be nice, but they would mean more to the mid-major having a banner season that Carolina would inevitably face in the NIT. (Ask Notre Dame if the extra practice time makes up for their embarrassing Gator Bowl display.) It also begs the question of whether a banner would be hung in the Smith Center bearing the words "NIT, 2003?" Might as well put one up that says "Self-reported secondary NCAA violation, 2003."

Yes, extra games are important, and I am not saying that a winning record wouldn't represent progress after last season. But there is a tradition to be thought of, and the extra games will come in the overseas trip to Spain this summer. Carolina's tradition dictates that the NIT is no longer an acceptable result for a basketball season in Chapel Hill. To say that it is, simply affirms that the standards of achievement we have long admired no longer have relevance to the program.

So here's pulling for our friend the groundhog to see his Carolina Blue shadow and give us seven more weeks of real basketball in Chapel Hill.


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