Prior to the game at UNLV, a Tar Heels fan approached me and asked if I believed that North Carolina would run the table and finish the season unbeaten. Responding quickly, I said, "No way. With the 3-point shot and so much youth in the game, no way anyone goes unbeaten."
The fan disagreed, said the Heels would win them all, and finished by saying, "Remember, you heard it here first."
I love the enthusiasm and belief, and there is not a game on the schedules of the Tar Heels or Kentucky Wildcats that they cannot win. But to reasonably expect either team to win every game is almost delusional. Someone will hit a bunch of 3-point shots or the Heels or Wildcats will play less than their best. It happens, and it will happen. Everyone will lose.
Think about it. The last team to finish the season unbeaten was Indiana in 1976. That season, the Hoosiers and Rutgers entered the NCAA tournament with undefeated records. The last team to enter the NCAA tournament without a loss was UNLV in 1991, and the Runnin' Rebels lost to Duke in the Final Four. The last team to finish the regular season unbeaten was St. Joseph's in 2004, and the Hawks then promptly lost in the opening round of the Atlantic 10 tournament before losing again in the Elite Eight.
Luckily, this isn't football, and absorbing a loss can sometimes be a positive in the long-term development of a team. North Carolina and Kentucky have both won national championships and reached Final Fours in the past two decades, and none of those teams finished the season unbeaten. If you lose a game, you may not be No. 1, but you can still be the best team and win a championship. North Carolina and Kentucky are at the top of that list.
The game Saturday in Lexington should be a great one. The atmosphere will be electric, and the stakes will seem incredibly high, even though the outcome will not enhance or diminish the chances of either team to win the national title.
Here is a breakdown heading into this Battle of the Bluebloods, and why I think the Wildcats have the advantage:
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