I admit, when I first stumbled back into the country on Sunday, jet-lagged, I read that Carolina would be playing Georgia Tech and thought, "Well, at least it's someone UNC's beaten this season." Of course, I was confusing Tech with the other gold-clad team in the ACC, Wake Forest; Georgia Tech shellacked the Heels in both of their meetings this season, and only a heroic performance by Will Graves in the home meeting made the score close. It was an easy mistake, however. Both teams were absolutely abysmal on the road, Tech going 1-7 and Wake 2-6 in conference. (Both teams count Chapel Hill as a win, by the way.) Neutral courts weren't particularly kind to the Yellow Jackets either, as they lost their biggest game on one, a four-point loss to Dayton (!) in Puerto Rico.
The confines of Greensboro Coliseum might be helpful here, as we can presume GT will try the same game plan as the previous two games. A fast tempo coupled with a quick barrage of threes to put the Heels in an early hole, after which you can sit back and enjoy the panic. (See also: every ACC game this season.) Missed shots on an unfamiliar court could rattle Tech, a team that has struggled down the stretch. If UNC can play to their potential, they can easily win this game. Not for nothing do the log5 predictions give Carolina the best chance of the bottom four teams to make the finals. (More on that later.)
I'll say one thing about Coach Williams' attitude about this team. He expects this team to go out and win the ACC Tournament. To wit:
"I'm approaching the tournament like it's our only chance left, and that does make you look at it a lot differently. Deep down inside, I'm still not going to go there, but this is my favorite experience in the ACC Tournament. It does. It gives us the chance to still play for a big, big prize. That's the way we're looking at it."
He's since walked that back a bit, with the standard "We’re going to focus on playing Georgia Tech. If we play well, perhaps they’ll let us stay around and play somebody else." But they really are coming in expecting to go four rounds. Unfortunately, they're the worst team to play the plucky underdog. They won't have fan support – UNC fans aren't going to come out en masse, and the rest of the league won't root for the Heels no matter how big of an underdog they might be – and they are woefully short on the depth they'll need for four games in four days. Better to take it one game at a time.
As for the rest of the Thursday games, the higher seeds are probably the way to go. Miami and Virginia are arriving in Greensboro with three and nine game losing streaks respectively. (And let's take a moment to be amazed again by the fifteen point loss to the Cavs. Virginia's won one game since then. They're the worst-rated team in the conference by almost every measure. And again, they won by fifteen.) Of course, since the tournament expanded in 2005, the lower seeds are a respectable 10 of 19 on Thursday, peaking in 2007 when they swept the day. Still, if I'm going to pick an upset, it's State over Clemson. Why? State's been playing well against admittedly weak competition over the last two weeks, and the Tigers are everyone's favorite underdog anyway.