UNC’s Davis knows how to advance as No. 8 seed
When Hubert Davis first saw North Carolina’s NCAA Tournament seed, he started laughing.
Davis was a sophomore in 1990 when the eighth-seeded Tar Heels defeated No. 1 seed and top-ranked Oklahoma on a buzzer-beater by Rick Fox to advance past the first weekend.
Davis now is back with UNC in his first year as an assistant coach, and once again the Tar Heels received a No. 8 seed. UNC will face No. 9 Villanova on Friday at the Sprint Center in Kansas City (7:20 p.m., TNT), with the winner all but certain to play No. 1 Kansas on Sunday.
Davis said there is one big difference between this year’s team and the 1990 squad.
“This team is playing a lot better,” Davis said. “I mean, it’s not even a comparison. This team, in terms of its momentum, is totally different.”
The 1990 team, which also featured King Rice and Scott Williams, was 19-12 and limped into the NCAA Tournament after losing in the ACC quarterfinals. Davis said the players were upset that they had underachieved and wanted to use the NCAA Tournament as a fresh start.
This year’s team didn’t wait until the postseason to make a turnaround. After changing to a smaller starting lineup, shortening the rotation and increasing their sense of urgency, the Tar Heels finished 8-3 — with all the losses to No. 2 seeds Duke and Miami — and advanced to the ACC Tournament final.
“Maybe at the beginning of the year — I don’t want to say we didn’t believe, (but) we didn’t know we could compete,” Davis said. “Now we know, and I think it’s lit a spark under these young guys that we’re there, we just have to keep going and keep improving. But we’re on the field; we’re in the ballpark.”
UNC’s recent resurgence led some to believe that it would receive a higher seed — coach Roy Williams said he was “stunned” and “disappointed” when the bracket came out. If the Tar Heels beat Villanova, they could have to face the nation’s second-ranked team just 45 minutes from its campus.
But Davis, who was a college basketball analyst before returning to UNC, said the team is just focused on itself.
“When I was at ESPN, I was the only one who was arguing to the point that seedings don’t mean anything,” Davis said. “It does in the NBA, where you have a homecourt advantage, but in the NCAA Tournament, it just doesn’t.
“If you have any kind of serious dreams and aspirations to get to the Final Four, you’re going to have to play somebody, so what’s the difference in playing in the first week or the second week? If you seriously think and want to get there, you’re going to have to play somebody. So one game scenario, hey, let’s go.”
Fox’s shot has lived on in Tar Heel lore and was part of the pregame montage of highlights at the Smith Center this season. With a win Friday, the players will have an opportunity to create another memorable upset that will be replayed for the next generation.
But before practice Tuesday, Davis said that he hadn’t talked about that run with this year’s group.
“None of these guys know what the heck happened 24 years ago,” Williams said. “There’s a reason — they weren’t even alive.”
NOTES — Williams would become the fourth active coach with 700 career wins if UNC gets past Villanova, joining Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Boeheim and Bob Huggins. ... Under Williams, the Tar Heels have beaten Villanova twice in the NCAA Tournament — in the 2005 regional semifinals and the 2009 national semifinals — and won the championship both years. ... UNC’s team hotel, the Marriott Downtown Kansas City, is located just one block from the Municipal Auditorium, where the Tar Heels beat Kansas in triple overtime to win the 1957 NCAA title.