'National championship or bust': North Carolina stars state expectations for 2022-23 season

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- After coming up one win short of a national championship last April, North Carolina players have a clear goal for the 2022-23 season, and anything short of that would be considered a disappointment.

"It's national championship or bust," guard Caleb Love told ESPN on Tuesday at ACC Media Day, flanked by Armando Bacot and R.J. Davis nodding in agreement. "For real. That's what we all came back for. They can't take that away from us, once we do that. And that's an accomplishment and a goal that will live with us forever. We're already locked in, but that will be another thing for us. We'll come back 20 years from now and it'll still be hanging."

North Carolina is ranked No. 1 in ESPN's final Way-Too-Early Top 25 and is the favorite to open the season as preseason No. 1 in the AP poll. The Tar Heels went on a stunning run through last season's NCAA tournament, going from an 8-seed to the national title game, knocking off Baylor, UCLA and Duke along the way. They led Kansas by 15 points at halftime of the championship game, but the Jayhawks came back for a 72-69 win.

"We've played in those tough battles, we've played in some of the most high-stakes games in college history," Bacot said. "It just allows us to know how to respond and react in those experiences, versus last year, not really knowing ... Now we kind of got an idea of what we need to do to win those games."

Love, Bacot, Davis and senior Leaky Black all opted to return to Chapel Hill for another season instead of leaving for the professional ranks, and that quartet is ready to lead another run in March.

"I wanted to win a national championship," Davis said. "That's like the main goal. It's been my goal since I was a kid. Just watching March Madness and see the confetti rise and get a banner."

"We're not satisfied with last year," Love said. "Last year is last year."

Head coach Hubert Davis wouldn't go quite as far as his players in stating the team's expectations for this season.

"I don't look at it that way at all. I just don't," Davis told ESPN. "I thought last year was a very successful year and we didn't win a national championship. ... In order to win a championship, the ball has to bounce your way, you've gotta be healthy. There's a lot in winning a national championship.

"Is that a goal of ours? Yes. But at the end of the day, what's most important to me is that our team reach its full potential. If our team reaches our full potential, that's the thing that brings me satisfaction."

North Carolina opens its season at home against UNC Wilmington on Nov. 7.