They don’t hang banners in the Dean E. Smith Center for winning streaks.
Now that Duke has ended the Tar Heels’ 12 game winning streak -- the longest since 2008-09 -- the season will be defined by what happens in the tournaments. Will the streak be a footnote to greater success, or will it end up being the crowning achievement?
“There’s always a fear that you get complacent -- you think that you’ve accomplished something and you forget to work,” UNC coach Roy Williams said. “… I’m pretty straightforward with them. I said, ‘Hey, we turned it around, but let’s not say the highlight of our season was a [four]-week period in January and February.’”
Sophomore forward Brice Johnson said losing to Duke to end the regular season made the team refocus after they had lost a sense of urgency during the last few games of the streak.
“Just remember how we started it at the beginning of that win streak,” Johnson said. “We were clicking on all cylinders and doing everything the right way that coach wanted us to do.”
The streak did serve a purpose. It validated the Heels' big wins in nonconference play and restored their confidence. But now they must reset quickly. The ACC tournament will bring a new set of challenges, starting with the expanded format. It’s the first season the tournament will include 15 teams and play out over five days.
Not many imagined Carolina would finish in a tie for third in the ACC with a No. 4 seed for the league tournament after starting 1-4 for the first time in program history.
Finishing in the top four and getting a double bye to the quarterfinal round does not guarantee success. The Big East played with similar format in a 16-team tournament the past five years. In each of those five tournaments, a team that finished fifth or worse made the championship game.
Williams long has downplayed the importance of winning the ACC tournament. (And this season in particular, it probably won’t have much of an impact on how the Tar Heels are seeded for the NCAA tournament.) Williams wants the Heels to gain momentum.
“Whether you win or lose, I don’t think there’s a huge correlation. I really don’t,” Williams said. “My teams have taken me to seven Final Fours and we’ve won the conference tournament one time out of those seven. I don’t think there’s a correlation between winning, but I do think there’s a great correlation between playing well. You gain some confidence.”