In April 2022, fans of the UNC Tarheel men’s basketball team were ecstatic after the team beat Duke in the Final Four and completely ruined what many thought would be a storybook ending for legendary Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski.
Before the loss, Coach K looked like he might finish off his career with a sixth National Championship. For Duke fans – like Greensboro Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Brent Christensen, who traveled all the way to the New Orleans Superdome to watch the game in person – that extremely painful loss seemed like an impossible outcome.
Just before the 2022 national semi-final game was played between the two rivals, one basketball commentator on ESPN stated adamantly that there was absolutely no way on Earth that UNC could win that game given that it would end Coach K’s career in the worst possible way – on the biggest stage, against Duke’s biggest rival, in the most important game the two teams had ever played.
“The basketball gods will not allow it,” the commentator said.
Carolina did manage to defeat Duke, but, in hindsight, the question many have is this: In doing so, did the program use up all of its luck and positive basketball karma for a very long time to come? Did the Tarheels anger the basketball gods and must they now pay the price?
That’s a question many basketball fans are asking after the Tarheels lost a Sunday afternoon, Feb. 19, game to NC State, leaving the Tarheels out of the NCAA Tournament picture, barring an amazing finish to their season.
After UNC beat Duke in the NCAA semifinals last year, they lost the national championship game. Also, even though UNC was picked as the preseason number one team in the country for the current season, the Tarheels are now ninth in the ACC with an overall record of 16 wins and 11 losses.
And though many sports prognosticators picked the Tarheels to repeat as national champions, there’s a very strong possibility that UNC may not even get invited back to the tournament. At the start of the season, that possibility was unthinkable.
During the Feb. 19 game against NC State – a close game until State won in the final minutes – Joe Lunardi, an expert in NCAA bracketology, spent a good deal of time explaining to the national TV audience why UNC should not be in the tournament this year.
For one, he said, the team has zero “quality” wins this year, also known as “Quadrant 1 wins.” In other words, Carolina hasn’t won a home game against a team in the top 30, a neutral game against a top 50 team, or an away game against a team ranked in the top 75.
Carolina has a chance to beat Duke again on Saturday, March 4, as well as a chance to win the ACC Championship and make it back into the NCAA tournament field, but the question may be not how well they play or how hard they try, but instead, the question may be this: Just how forgiving are the basketball gods?