UNC men's basketball shifts focus to next win

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ACC Tournament Title Game: UNC vs. MIami

The North Carolina men’s basketball team might have let its third straight ACC Tournament championship game slip through its fingers Sunday, but the Tar Heels didn’t have time to sulk at the Greensboro Coliseum. They had the next step in mind.

The team rushed back to Chapel Hill following the 87-77 loss and made it to coach Roy Williams’ house in time to watch the NCAA Tournament selection show, during which it learned of UNC’s No. 8 seed in the South region.

“I don’t mind telling you, I was stunned,” Williams said about his reaction Tuesday. “When I saw the North Carolina in the number eight, I was stunned. Then it took me a couple seconds to say, ‘Hey, that’s us. That’s not somebody else, that’s us.’”

The seed, which is tied for North Carolina’s lowest ever, means the Tar Heels (24-10) will open tournament play Friday in Kansas City, Mo., against ninth-seeded Villanova (20-13).

Should North Carolina get past the Wildcats, it will likely play top-seeded Kansas, a team Williams coached for 15 years before taking the job at his alma mater. That game would be played 40 miles from the Jayhawks’ home turf.

In 2008, UNC lost to the Jayhawks 84-66 in the Final Four. Last year, Kansas ended UNC’s tournament run in the Elite Eight 80-67.

Williams said he was confused by his team’s draw but the only thing he can do now is focus on the task at hand.

“You say, ‘Wow,’” Williams said, describing the potential matchup with Kansas. “But I’m thinking about Villanova.”

“It was a surprise being No. 8. It was a little surprise going to play in Kansas City. But if you start thinking about playing Kansas in Kansas City, you forget about the biggest duty, and that’s to win a game to even get there.”

Dexter Strickland and P.J. Hairston stared blankly when asked what they knew about their upcoming opponent.

“They’re from Philly,” Hairston muttered.

Members of the UNC coaching staff have been looking at tape of Villanova’s season, during which the Wildcats beat top-seeded Louisville.

Strickland echoed his coach’s thoughts about the eight-seed, adding that he was disappointed with the draw.

Still, the fourth-year senior has been through two other NCAA tournament trips with the Tar Heels. So no matter the opponent or its seed, he knows exactly where his mind will be.

“You don’t realize until you’re actually playing and you’re down and you say to yourself, ‘This is going to be the last game of the season.’ That thought gets you to play even harder,” Strickland said.

“I would just tell (the young guys), ‘Just go down there, play to your full potential, give it your all, lose yourself out there on the floor. Because it might be your last game.’”

Contact the desk editor at sports@dailytarheel.com.

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