North Carolina

UNC’s Roy Williams downplays importance of starting NCAAs in Raleigh

If North Carolina hasn’t already secured its place in Raleigh for the start of the NCAA tournament – and it might well have, after winning the ACC regular season championship with a victory against Duke on Saturday – then the Tar Heels can do it this week in Washington, D.C.

With a strong showing there at the ACC tournament, they’d be assured of beginning the NCAA tournament the following week in Raleigh at PNC Arena, which is hosting first- and second-round games. Not that UNC coach Roy Williams sees much value in such an opportunity.

Williams on Monday said that aside from Raleigh, he couldn’t name any of the other cities that are hosting first- and second-round NCAA tournament games.

And “the only reason I know Raleigh,” Williams said, “is because several people have said, ‘Boy, wouldn’t it be good to be in Raleigh?’ And I’ll say, ‘For what?’ It’s not usually the kind of place I like to go to that often.”

Perhaps Williams should more appreciate Raleigh. During his time as UNC’s head coach, Williams is 12-2 at PNC Arena – 10-2 in games against N.C. State and 2-0 in NCAA tournament games. The Tar Heels won those in 2008 on their way to the Final Four.

The NCAA tournament selection committee tries to reward high seeds with early-round games at sites close to their campuses. The Tar Heels last received such treatment in 2012, when they began the NCAA tournament at the Greensboro Coliseum.

They started the 2013 tournament in Kansas City, the 2014 tournament in San Antonio and began the tournament a season ago in Jacksonville, Fla. With a 14-4 finish in the ACC, one that included that 76-72 victory at Duke on Saturday night, UNC has a strong case to begin the tournament in Raleigh.

The Tar Heels could further solidify it with a strong showing at the ACC tournament later this week.

“I’d like it better for our fans, I’d like it better because it’s not traveling as far,” Williams said of opening the NCAA tournament in Raleigh. “But it doesn’t guarantee winning. And it doesn’t mean you’re going to lose if you go somewhere else.”

Outside of Raleigh, Williams said, “I’m serious. I don’t think I know another (NCAA tournament) site.”

And he might not need to – especially if the Tar Heels stick around for a couple of days, or three, in the ACC tournament. UNC enters Washington, D.C., as the tournament’s top seed, and the Tar Heel will seek to take a next step.

They’ve reached the championship game in three out of the past four years but lost in the final in 2012 against Florida State and against Miami in 2013 and against Notre Dame last season. The memory of that defeat – another one in which UNC lost a second-half lead – has endured.

“We had it right there,” Joel Berry, the sophomore point guard, said Monday. “And we were, I think, five or six minutes from winning it. And the game just turned around. So we’re looking back at last year as we’ve got to finish it out.

“And that’s been a big for us, is just finishing games. So this year we’re going to go in with the same mindset that we did last year of going in there and competing and just this time we’ve got to finish it out and accomplish that goal that we want.”

Do that and there would be no question about where the Tar Heels would start the NCAA tournament. If Williams had his way, though, UNC might travel a little farther.

“If I have a choice, send my (butt) to Hawaii,” he said. “If you want me to tell you where I want to go, let’s have the regional in Hawaii.”