I’ve been told living well is the best revenge.
The first time I wrote a “How to Pick UNC in Your Bracket” column the whole premise was a bit of a joke. That year the Tar Heels were a very good team, but not title worthy. It was a fun way to entertain an alternative reality where Kentucky (or Duke as it turned out) didn’t romp to a title.
When the column returned last year the tone was different. Last year’s UNC team led by Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige checked all the boxes for a squad capable of cutting down the nets in Houston. The basic premise of the column remained the same, but it was imbued with the hopeful optimism of a fan who knew his team could actually etch their names in the annals of history.
For five games UNC looked the part, shutting the door on the hopes of their opponents down the stretch with a ruthless consistency. Then Kris Jenkins happened. What should have been the greatest shot in UNC history instantly became a historical footnote and the 2016 Tar Heels fell 4.7 seconds short of historical immortality.
After the heartbreak of last year, I didn’t really feel like going through the exercise of writing this column again. The optimism and carefree sense of humor that let me write Dr. Seuss rhymes about Tom Izzo’s ineptitude against UNC is gone.
So this year I’m not telling you how to pick UNC in your bracket so they have the most realistic path. I’m not picking the funniest matchups. I’m still too angry about last year to do that.
Instead, this column is telling you how to pick North Carolina in your bracket in the most vengeful way possible. How UNC can win six games leaving a Beatrix Kiddo-esque trail of retaliatory carnage in its wake. Because living well isn’t actually the best revenge.
REVENGE IS THE BEST REVENGE.
Round of 64: UNC defeats Texas Southern University/Seth Davis’s Stupid Face
After some light internet research I discovered that Texas Southern is a historically black college that has never really done anything to cross UNC or the state of North Carolina. As such picking UNC here isn’t to exact revenge upon Texas Southern, but instead upon Seth Davis’ stupid face.
You may remember that in last year’s tournament the Tar Heels played 16 seed Florida Gulf Coast in the first round. Dunk Coast gave Carolina everything it could handle and at halftime the Tar Heels led by a single point, 41-40. During the halftime show we were forced to endure Seth Davis’s stupid face proclaiming that Florida Gulf Coast was going to win and become the first 16 seed to upset a 1 seed. North Carolina won by 16.
This year UNC comes out and wipes Texas Southern from the start, preventing Seth Davis’ stupid face from making more asinine predictions.
Round of 32: UNC defeats Arkansas
In 1995 Arkansas beat UNC in the Final Four, preventing Rasheed Wallace from the chance to win a championship at Carolina. You could argue that North Carolina already avenged that loss in 2008 and again in 2015. You could argue that, but you’d be wrong. The truth is there is no limit to the number of times Sheed not getting a championship can be avenged. If the Tar Heels beat the Razorbacks in the next twenty-five tournaments and yell “Ball Don’t Lie” after every missed Arkansas free throw it still won’t be enough.
As far as this year’s matchup, the Razorbacks are still coached by Mike Anderson and will probably try and run with North Carolina again. Which as we’ve already established, is a very dumb strategy. The Tar Heels keep dancing.
Sweet Sixteen: UNC defeats Butler
North Carolina has lost to Butler a few times in early season tournaments over the last several years, but that’s not what we’re avenging here. No this is about the title-winning shot that didn’t go in. Yup this is payback for Gordon Hayward’s heave falling off the front iron in 2010.
It may seem silly to want revenge on a team that lost a National Championship game, but unfortunately that shot not going in meant Duke won a championship. Duke winning a championship is the worst possible outcome to any college basketball season under any circumstance. It’s even more egregious when you consider the parallels between that 2010 Duke team and last year’s UNC team — both teams led more by experienced upperclassmen rather than NBA lottery talent and both trying to steal a championship the year after their rival’s juggernaut squad had dominated the field.
Two shots go differently and Roy Williams suddenly has three titles and Coach K only has four. The world is unjust. And since there is no justice we’ll just have to settle for revenge.
Elite Eight: UNC defeats Kentucky
When you’re talking about a matchup between the two greatest programs in college basketball history — YEAH I SAID IT UCLA AND DUKE FANS, FIGHT ME — it’s hard to get caught up in avenging one specific game. The Tar Heels and Wildcats have a laundry list of memorable bouts in the regular season and NCAA tournament. But there is one game that must be avenged.
And no it isn’t Malik Monk going for 47 in December.
In 2011, UNC and Kentucky met in the Elite Eight in a game that sneakily is one of the biggest “what if” moments in recent Tar Heel basketball memory. Carolina had endured a rocky start to the season but then Kendall Marshall took over as point guard and Harrison Barnes transformed from “huge bust” to THE BLACK FALCON.1 In a completely chaotic bracket, Carolina was suddenly looking at a semi-unexpected trip to the Final Four. Unfortunately John Henson got in early foul trouble and Kentucky shot 12-22 from behind the arc and Kentucky ended up prevailing. The Wildcats went on to lose to eventual champion UConn.
Here’s the rub. I remain convinced that if North Carolina had gotten past Kentucky they beat that Connecticut team– Carolina has always seemed to have UConn’s number — then have a chance to play a Gordon Hayward-less Butler in the National Championship. That’s no guarantee but it’s about as advantageous a Final Four as you could ask for. Neither of those teams had the size to deal with a Barnes-Henson-Zeller front line.
Aside from North Carolina winning a sixth NCAA championship, in that scenario Harrison Barnes probably goes pro after his freshman year and the “not friendly to one and dones” stigma that UNC has dealt with recently probably never exists.
It’s a hell of a hypothetical, but unfortunately no one can change the fact that Kentucky got hot from deep that Sunday afternoon. Which brings us back to… REVENGE.
Final Four: UNC defeats Iowa State
Full disclosure: If this was just about picking the matchups with the most vengeance potential then the obvious matchup here is Kansas. But since the basic premise of this piece is how to pick North Carolina to win a championship, Kansas is out. I don’t trust Roy Williams versus Kansas. One day perhaps we’ll face those demons but for now Kansas is Thanos in the end of Avengers movies. You go ahead and keep collecting Infinity Big 12 titles, stay the hell away from us, and we’ll just kick Ultron’s ass and call it a win. Deal? DEAL.
So instead we go with Iowa State here. There’s a poetry to facing the Cyclones as it was Iowa State that dealt seniors Nate Britt, Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks their first tournament loss, also in last minute fashion. This year UNC gets payback, Hicks and Meeks pound the undersized Cyclones in the paint, and Britt… well Britt probably goes 2-7 on ill-advised long two point jumpers. I can’t get too unrealistic here.
National Championship: UNC defeats Villanova
It had to end like this.
In Rocky II, the first half of the movie drags a bit. Rocky is waffling over whether to accept Apollo Creed’s challenge for a rematch. Rocky’s wife, Adrian, having seen the toll the first fight took on both Rocky’s body, opposes his decision to train for a rematch. When Adrian goes into a coma from the complications of childbirth, Rocky decides to to give up his shot for revenge against Creed. Yet when Adrian wakes up and and he lets her know he won’t fight Creed, she tells him there’s one thing she wants him to do for her… WIN.
From that point on Rocky II FREAKING GOES. I get that Rocky I is the better “film”. I appreciate the silly fun of Rocky III and IV. But the second half of Rocky II is the best hour of the entire series.
I say this because for most of the season UNC fans have viewed Villanova the way Adrian viewed Apollo Creed. The first Creed fight left Rocky in the the hospital with a detached retina and still that’s way less painful than the aftermath of the Jenkins shot. I’m sure plenty of North Carolina fans have already picked Nova to lose early in their brackets for this very reason.
So bring on Villanova. Bring on Kris Jenkins. Bring on Josh Hart. Bring on Jay Wright. Bring on sweet revenge. There really is no other way.