UNC Basketball: Biggest Surprise of Tar Heels' 2014 NCAA Tournament

Todd SalemContributor IIIMarch 24, 2014

SAN ANTONIO, TX - MARCH 23: DeAndre Kane #50 of the Iowa State Cyclones brings the ball up the floor in the closing seconds as J.P. Tokoto #13 of the North Carolina Tar Heels defends during the third round of the 2014 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at the AT&T Center on March 23, 2014 in San Antonio, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

During North Carolina's 2014 NCAA tournament run that fell short of expectations, there were many things that came as a surprise. Not the least of which were the performances of Leslie McDonald (surprisingly good) and James Michael McAdoo (surprisingly bad) in the Iowa State game on Sunday.

Tar Heel fans were also treated to a surprise of sorts from the officials at the end of UNC's loss to Iowa State in the round of 32.

However, despite ups and downs and last-second victories and losses, the biggest surprise to come out of Carolina's postseason was its inability to defend the opponent's top threat.

Overall, just based off of the final scores alone, UNC had one of the more exciting tournaments of any team. A two-point win in Round 2 was followed by a two-point loss in Round 3. One play here or there is often the difference between moving on and going home. Everyone knows this cliche. The funny thing is though, in Carolina's case, there were dozens of plays each game that the Tar Heels knew were coming, and they still couldn't stop them.

These plays being referred to are some of the 23 field-goal attempts Bryce Cotton took in the Providence game and some of the 18 shots DeAndre Kane attempted in the Iowa State game.

Everyone knew that Kane was going to attempt the final shot in ISU's last possession of the Round 3 loss. What wasn't expected was the ease with which he was able to get a shot off, and a layup at that.

SAN ANTONIO, TX - MARCH 21:  Bryce Cotton #11 of the Providence Friars puts up a shot while being guarded by Kennedy Meeks #3 of the North Carolina Tar Heels during the second half of the second round of the 2014 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at AT&T C
Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Everyone knew that Cotton was going to keep shooting, since no other Friars were having any kind of success. What wasn't expected was that he would keep making all the shots he kept taking.

The failure to defend—and namely defend the point guard position—is a huge surprise for this Carolina squad that had begun to pride itself on its defense. Sure, UNC liked to run up and down and push the ball even after made baskets, but for the first time in Roy Williams' tenure in Chapel Hill, the team could consistently get stops and win games that way.

Such was not the case during the NCAA tournament. J.P. Tokoto was the best defender on North Carolina, and his athleticism and quickness helped make him one of the best in the ACC. However, he was in no position (pardon the pun) to guard Cotton and was just as helpless against Kane (as were the rest of the Heels).

UNC turned itself into the second-best defense in the conference against three-point shooting. This should have been a key factor in shutting down Cotton. Of anyone in the country who averaged more than 21 points per game during the season (13 players), Cotton was dead last in field-goal percentage overall and averaged the fifth-most threes per game. Yet instead of containing him, UNC let him go off for 36 points in Round 2.

SAN ANTONIO, TX - MARCH 23:  DeAndre Kane #50, Monte Morris #11 and Daniel Edozie #42 of the Iowa State Cyclones celebrate after defeating the North Carolina Tar Heels 85-83 in the third round of the 2014 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at the AT&T Cente
Tom Pennington/Getty Images

It wasn't even that Kane scored seemingly at will and hit the game-winner in Round 3. He also outrebounded everyone except Kennedy Meeks and finished with a game-high seven assists. With Georges Niang out with an injury, it should have been even easier to limit what Iowa State was able to do offensively. Instead, Kane got whatever he wanted.

The immediate reaction after a tough loss is anger and a sense of failure at how the season transpired. Once some time passes though, I still think fans will look back on the year and think the team fell short.

It wasn't because the Heels failed to reach a certain threshold or checkpoint. It wasn't because expectations from the beginning of the season were so high. The sense of failure will stem from the fact that UNC needed a little luck just to get by Providence, and it should have beaten Iowa State but performed below expectations in both cases because stopping one man became too much work for five defenders.