North Carolina: Tar Heels Fill Last Final Four Spot Defeating Notre Dame

Top-seeded North Carolina advanced to the Final Four Sunday evening, defeating conference rival Notre Dame 88-74 to advance to its 19th Final Four appearance. After their win, Coach Roy Williams posed with teammates, wearing his cap sideways and snapping selfies. "How 'bout those Tar Heels?" Williams asked the crowd.

North Carolina's Brice Johnson had 25 points and 12 rebounds. Johnson also made his 23rd double-double of the season, setting a school record. Marcus Paige added 13 points, while John Berry II had 11 points and eight assists. North Carolina won its four tournament games with an average of 15.4 points.

North Carolina (29-6) will face tenth-seeded Syracuse next Saturday night in Houston. This marks Syracuse's first appearance in the Final Four since 2009. Second-seeded Oklahoma (29-7) will face sixth seed Villanova (33-5).

North Carolina has won five NCAA Tournament Championships (1957, 1982, 1993, 2005 and 2009). The national championships in 2005 and 2009 were won with current coach, 65-year-old Williams.

(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

The Philadelphia Inquirer explained how North Carolina got things done in order to make it to the Final Four.

"This game [against Notre Dame] started strong and it stayed there, both teams oozing their offensive quality. In the first half, Brice Johnson had his way with 15 points and eight rebounds. Johnson had more rebounds than his teammates combined and more than Notre Dame's team combined.

"In the end, however, the Tar Heels were doing what Tar Heels teams of this caliber have done for generations, whipping the ball around the court, ticking off the last seconds. Brey took Jackson out with 34 seconds left and Jackson let the emotions hit him before he left the court. Roy Williams pulled out his stars and they had an entirely different expression. On to Houston. They'll live with being favorites."

But it hasn't been a smooth ride to the Final Four for North Carolina this time. The dark cloud of an academic scandal has followed the team.

(Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
(Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

In an interview with ESPN, Williams explained how people questioned his integrity to the team.

"This team has been my salvation," Williams told "People have questioned my integrity for the first time in my life, and this team has made me...Then he paused to gather himself...It's been really good...It has been good through the awful, with each of North Carolina's 32 victories partnered with a snicker about the university's sweeping academic scandal. Plenty of people think the Tar Heels, 88-74 winners over Notre Dame, don't deserve to be playing basketball at all this season, let alone marching on to their first Final Four since 2009."
North Carolina is still in the midst of a lengthy academic fraud allegation, but has not moved to self-impose any sanctions, even though the fraud was first reported in 2010 and findings of a full investigation were released in 2014. But last June, the NCAA found that North Carolina had not committed academic fraud, but rather "impermissible benefits." No one on staff was accused of committing any NCAA reports that case against North Carolina is moving along.
"The alleged fraud occurred over an 18-year period and included more than 3,000 student-athletes, including members of North Carolina's basketball team. Last May the NCAA charged the school with five Level I (major) violations. Before responding, North Carolina said it had uncovered other violations, and it continues its investigation.When asked by USA Today about the status of North Carolina's case, NCAA president Mark Emmert said, 'It has obviously been a long, drawn-out process. It took the university a long time to gather the facts on their end. They [North Carolina] wanted that opportunity and everyone was pleased to give them that opportunity, or willing to give them that opportunity. And it's actually been moving forward well and in a cooperative collaborate fashion like these things are supposed to.'
North Carolina will face Syracuse on Saturday in Houston.

[Image by Elsa/Getty Images]