North Carolina won’t have to leave its home state to begin its pursuit of another national championship.
The Tar Heels earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament and will begin play in the Midwest Region on Friday in Greensboro, about an hour west of the Chapel Hill campus. North Carolina (29-5) will face the Lamar-Vermont winner in its tournament opener.
It marked the 14th time North Carolina has received a No. 1 seed, the most in NCAA history. The Tar Heels have reached the Final Four in five of the past six years they’ve had a top seed, including national-title runs in 2005 and 2009 under Roy Williams.
In a statement Sunday night, Williams said the team was “extremely pleased that the NCAA selection committee felt we deserved a No. 1 seed.”
“It’s a long, long year and for the most part our club has performed very well all season,” Williams said. “Now we start a completely new season and everyone starts even.”
Freshman guard P.J. Hairston said the team wasn’t worried about whether the Tar Heels would be seeded as a No. 1 or No. 2.
“It doesn’t really matter,” Hairston said after Sunday’s loss to Florida State in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament final in Atlanta. “As long as you get in the dance, it’s equal opportunity to get to the Final Four.”
Still, having a high seed ensured staying in Greensboro, where the 2009 championship run started. North Carolina is 29-1 in NCAA tournament games played in its home state and has won 25 straight.
The Tar Heels were a No. 2 seed last year after winning the ACC regular-season race and reached a regional final before losing to Kentucky. They returned all five starters from that group and were preseason No. 1, though they hit a few more bumps than expected with some early losses and the loss of starter Dexter Strickland to a midseason knee injury.
North Carolina lost by 33 points at Florida State in January, and lost by a point to Duke and Kentucky on games that came down to the final possession. But for the most part, the Tar Heels toughened up in the final month before routing the Blue Devils in Cameron Indoor Stadium to clinch the ACC regular-season title for the second straight year.
But the Tar Heels lost top defender John Henson (left wrist) to injury in the first half of an ACC tournament quarterfinal against Maryland. Henson didn’t play the rest of the weekend, though Williams said after the FSU loss that he expected Henson would be ready for the NCAAs.
“We have hopes and dreams to play well,” Williams said. “Everyone talks about playing well for three weeks, but you have to play well in each and every game to advance. We look forward to getting started.”
Among the storylines in the region is a possible matchup for the Tar Heels with second-seeded Kansas, the program Williams left in 2003 to return to his alma mater. The programs met in the 2008 Final Four, where the Jayhawks famously ran out to a 40-12 first-half lead before winning 84-66 on the way to the national title.
Georgetown is the No. 3 seed, followed by Michigan, Temple and San Diego State. In addition, UNC rival North Carolina State slipped into the bracket as a No. 11 seed.
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