On Second Thought, Something Special In This Year's Tournament

Tom KerestesCorrespondent IApril 7, 2009

Once again, March has come and gone—as well as a little bit of April—and we find ourselves finished with yet another NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.

The 2009 Tournament certainly had its standard share of excitement: Villanova’s thrilling last-second drive to beat Pittsburgh and advance to the Final Four; Arizona being this year’s annual number twelve seed to make it to the Sweet Sixteen; or Michigan State’s stunning beat-down of the Tournament’s number one over all seed, Louisville.


Just to name a few.


But there seems to be a general consensus that the Tournament this year lacked a little bit of the shock and awe excitement that has given these three weeks in March the reputation as the greatest time of the year in sports. So as I find myself standing back and reflecting on this Tournament, I can’t help but notice that the most glaring thing standing out to me, the one takeaway from this Tournament that I may never forget, has to do with that exact lack of excitement.


More specifically, it has to do with the University of North Carolina’s absolute dominance.


Before the season began, there was hardly a doubt amongst college basketball analysts as to who would win this year. And it wasn’t even a matter of where they would get lucky or what breaks they would need to come out on top. It was a foregone conclusion.


UNC was going to be the beast of Men’s College Basketball.


And sometime in early April, they will be cutting down the nets.


And they did. Last night.


So yes, all the analysts were correct. But UNC’s road to this point was no walk in the park. Plenty of times throughout the season they showed signs of weakness—signs no one had expected to see. And while they still managed to win the talented Atlantic Coast Conference’s regular season crown, they needed a few key victories near the end to do so.


And then they stumbled against a surging Florida State team in the ACC Tournament. Oh yeah, and their star point guard, Ty Lawson, was still banged up and uncertain how healthy he would be for the NCAA Tournament.


The bottom line is that there were plenty of reasons to doubt that the pre-season Tar Heels team, which was initially expected to blow all of their opponents out of the water this season, would show up for the Big Dance.


Boy, did they prove those doubters wrong—including yours truly.


The 2009 UNC team, lead by Tyler Hansbrough and an ensemble of teammates who all decided to put the NBA off for another year to come back and realize their dream of an NCAA Championship, may not be brought up in discussions of the best ever college basketball teams.


But they certainly deserve to be included in any discussion involving the best NCAA Tournament Team performances of all-time.


The first thing that stood out thinking back on UNC’s performance in this tournament was how there never seemed to be a moment when their chances of winning were in question—especially not down the stretch, or in the second half. After looking over their margins of victory, I noticed a very impressive feat—they won every game by double-digits.


The 2009 UNC team won each of their games by margins of: 43, 14, 21, 12, 14, and 17. That’s an average margin of victory of 20.17 points. Since 1980, there have only ever been three other teams to accomplish that feat en route to a National Championship.


2009 – UNC (#1) –     43, 14, 21, 12, 14, 17 = Average of 20.17pts

2001 – Duke (#1) –     43, 13, 13, 10, 11, 10 = Average of 16.67pts

2000 – MSU (#1) –     27, 12, 17, 11, 12, 13 = Average of 15.33pts

1981 – IU (#3) –          35, 15, 32, 18, 13        = Average of 22.60pts


These are some of the greatest NCAA Tournament performances of all time, and based on the numbers, this 2009 UNC team sure looks like they should be sitting right near the top.


But to take this even further, and get an idea of how strong these performances truly are, let’s look at the Tournament performances of a few of the other past NCAA Champions of whom are widely regarded as some of the greatest College Basketball teams of all time (again, as of 1980):


2009 – UNC (#1) –                 43, 14, 21, 12, 14, 17 = Average of 20.17pts

1996 – Kentucky (#1) –           38, 24, 31, 20, 7, 9      = Average of 21.5pts

1992 – Duke (#1) –                 26, 13, 12, 1, 3, 20      = Average of 12.5pts

1990 – UNLV (#1) –               30, 11, 2, 30, 11, 30    = Average of 19.0pts

1982 – UNC (#1) –                 2, 5, 10, 5, 1                = Average of 4.60pts


No matter how you look at it, the 2009 UNC team’s performance is incredibly impressive.


Of course, when you look at a team like the 1996 Kentucky Wildcats, you can see they were extremely dominant in the early rounds, as would be expected. But they had tighter games down the stretch.


The 1992 Duke team was great and blew out Michigan’s infamous Fab 5 in the Championship game by twenty points. But they still needed an even more famous last-second shot by Christian Laettner to escape Kentucky by a one point margin.


In 1990, teams were legitimately scared of the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels. They were clearly a force and had guys on their team that looked like they could have already spent five years in the NBA before putting on a college jersey. But even they couldn’t complete the double-digit victory margin in every game. Furthermore, their two point victory came against a twelve seeded Ball State team.


And the 1982 UNC team, loaded with James Worthy, Sam Perkins, and some guy named Michael Jordan barely even cracked double-digits in all of their five victories.


Ultimately, there is no argument that these teams are considered the greatest of All-time. And they should be.


But that makes a performance like we just witnessed from UNC in this year’s Tournament all that more impressive. Perhaps, if Indiana University had played in an era where there were sixty-four teams as opposed to forty-eight, they would have added on another lopsided victory.  


But the fact remains that UNC’s performance this year is nothing to brush aside with the rest of the seemingly non-eventful 2009 Tournament. We got to see something truly special, which we can always remember.


Perhaps it wasn’t quite as boring of a tournament as many of us initially thought.