In a 1980 boxing match, Roberto Durán, the WBC Welterweight Champion, may have been so embarrassed by his performance against contender “Sugar” Ray Leonard that by the eighth round he famously told the referee “No más.” In Spanish the phrase means “No more,” but in other words he said, “I quit.” That same year in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, the third-seeded University of North Carolina Tar Heels were destroyed in the round of 32 by Texas A&M, losing by 17 points to the sixth-seeded Aggies after earning a first-round bye.
This year’s Heels team won’t even get the chance to humiliate themselves that badly in postseason play, not during March Madness or even the lesser-esteemed National Invitation Tournament. Head coach Hubert Davis would rather his team quit on 2023.
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“All season our focus and goal have been on being the best team we can possibly become and reaching our full potential to give us another opportunity to compete, play for and win an NCAA championship,” Davis said in a statement after the NCAA chose to exclude UNC from its March Madness tournament. “Although we no longer have that opportunity and this season wasn’t what we had hoped for, I want to thank our players and staff for their hard work and love for Carolina Basketball.”
With that, he said goodbye to his coaches and players for the rest of the season, even though there was a strong chance the NIT would have invited them to compete in its second-tier championship. UNC was at worst on the March Madness bubble with a 20-13 overall record while competing in a tough ACC, where at 11-9 they still had a winning record.
“Many factors go into postseason play and we believe now is the time to focus on moving ahead, preparing for next season and the opportunity to again compete for ACC and NCAA championships,” Davis added. “I also want to thank our great fans for their incredible support. Our commitment to you is what drives us to improve our program in every way.”
So for the first time since 2010 the Tar Heels, one of the most successful programs in the history of Division I basketball, won’t wear their sky blue and white uniforms to the Big Dance. They’ve also earned the dubious honor of becoming the first team to ever begin an NCAA season ranked number one in the Associated Press preseason poll and miss March Madness, since tournament invitations expanded to 64 schools in 1985. All this comes after Davis’s squad reached the tournament final last year, losing in heartbreaking fashion by three to the Kansas Jayhawks, after jumping out to a 16-point lead in the first half. They’d also beaten arch rivals the Duke Blue Devils in the Final Four to reach the championship game.
NCAA basketball analysts point to a series of November losses against top-ranked schools as one primary reason for the Heels’s tournament snub. (In eight of their overall 13 losses, UNC blew second-half leads as well.) Injuries to key players were also a factor.
But Davis’s team finished the year with the 40th-toughest strength of schedule in the nation, higher than a number of schools invited to March Madness, including USC, Providence, Miami (Fl.) and Virginia. So the question wasn’t whether or not the Heels would be invited to the NIT, which welcomes the top teams in the nation that didn’t make the NCAA Division I championship tourney cut. The NIT probably would’ve been thrilled to have a school with such a rabid fanbase in its bracket. The question was whether or not UNC would take another chance to compete.
It’s a wonder what lesson this teaches the young men in the program. They attend the school and endure all those practices for the express purpose of playing basketball games against other teams — though I suppose there’s that whole education element, too. Faced with the opportunity to continue on, their head coach is saying, “No más.”
However, as SBNation pointed out, the Tar Heels are a veteran team, and the NIT is designed for squads with younger players who need seasoning and want to end the year on a high note if possible. This iteration of UNC’s high note was defeating Duke last year. We’ll see what next year brings, but a rebuild could push them even farther from a March Madness bid. Maybe then they’ll settle for an NIT title try.