Luke DeCock

Personality, not experience, will be the difference in UNC’s approach – DeCock

There’s one big difference in how Theo Pinson in particular will approach this Final Four compared to the last one, and it’s anyone’s guess just how much it will affect how North Carolina plays this weekend.

“Definitely won’t take as many pants,” Pinson said. “Because we’re going to be in Arizona and it’s hot as crap.”

That essential detail hints at the main thing the Tar Heels will do differently this time around, although it has as much to do with their personality as a team as it does the experience of having been there before.

They plan to savor the moment.

“The Final Four was the most fun all of us have had in basketball,” Justin Jackson said. “We’re getting there a day earlier this time, so we’re going to go and enjoy the experience. And then Saturday, it’s all business. Up until that point, and all the times around it, we’re just going to enjoy it. You don’t get many times to one Final Four, let alone two.”

The Final Four is as much a festival as three games, full of side trips and dinners and media availabilities. There was a time when the teams flew out Friday and played Saturday. Now it’s more like a bowl game, or even the Super Bowl. The Tar Heels left Tuesday. For a game still four days away!

That part of it can trip up a team – or a program – going through it for the first time, and North Carolina’s experience will be a constant storyline this weekend, one Roy Williams is already tired of talking about (on Tuesday, with the game still four days away). The Tar Heels were not only at the Final Four last year, but the program is going for the 21st time. The latter is no small detail considering the amount of planning and bureaucracy that goes into participating in the Final Four, and the other three programs have been one time, collectively, 78 years ago.

It didn’t bother North Carolina’s players a year ago, none of whom had that experience, but the Tar Heels definitely had a different approach. Marcus Paige was a leader of the most serious kind, while Brice Johnson radiated a quiet intensity. The trip to Houston was a business trip from start to heartbreaking finish.

The returning players are a different kind of group. Calmer. Funnier. Goofier. Maybe even closer. “They’re all idiots,” Williams said, affectionately. That runs up and down the roster, from Pinson’s antics to Kennedy Meeks’ perpetual smile to the sharp wit of Justin Jackson and Joel Berry and so on. They learned from Paige and Johnson, to be sure, but they lead differently.

“Marcus and Brice were a little more serious,” Meeks said. And the only serious one out there, for real, is Isaiah (Hicks). It’s a little different dynamic but we have the same mindset. We’re a little more loose with it, because we’ve been here before, we’ve seen these type of things, we know what it takes.”

So this will be a different kind of Final Four trip. They know the routine. They know the drill. They know what’s coming Saturday. So until that moment, they’ll enjoy it, take it all in.

“You don’t get many opportunities – there’s 300-something teams sitting at home that don’t get to experience what we’re about to experience,” Jackson said. “We’re just going to go and have as much fun as possible, and then once the game comes around, get ready for that.”

Which isn’t to say that Oregon or Gonzaga or South Carolina won’t. Each team handles things in its own way. But this is how this team has handled things all season, and knowing exactly what’s coming, it knows exactly how it wants to handle it. Shorts and all.

Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947,, @LukeDeCock

Final Four

No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 7 South Carolina

When: 6:09 p.m., Saturday

Where: University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz.


No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 3 Oregon

When: Approx. 8:50 p.m., Saturday

Where: University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz.


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