North Carolina returns to Final Four–as expected

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North Carolina is right where it’s expected to be – back in the Final Four and playing like the favorite to win the national championship.

North Carolina is right where it’s expected to be – back in the Final Four and playing like the favorite to win the national championship.

Getting there, however, was a little tougher than expected.

The Tar Heels lost key players to injury or suspension. They started 0-2 in the Atlantic Coast Conference not long after some speculated the team could go unbeaten. And the pressure for a return trip to the Final Four for the title that got away only grew.

Now two wins from that goal, it weighs as heavily as ever.

“I do think a lot of people did expect them to be undefeated and a lot of people said, ‘It must be great to Carolina. It must be easy. You win all the time,’” said Villanova coach Jay Wright, whose team faces the Tar Heels in Saturday’s national semifinals. “It’s not. It’s tough. Their players and coaches handle it extremely well. It amazes me how they handle it.”

The Tar Heels (32-4) have handled expectations just fine in the NCAA tournament, winning four games by double figures each time. That includes a pair of convincing wins against Gonzaga and Oklahoma in last week’s South Regional games, sending the Tar Heels to a record 18th Final Four. Of course, anything less would have been a disappointment.

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