North Carolina vs Clemson, 6:00 PM, ESPNU
There will be a lot of talk about UNC's 56-0 record versus Clemson in Chapel Hill but in reality a loss in this game creates a bigger issue than seeing a historic home winning streak over one team that has never been consistently good in basketball. A loss here drops UNC to 1-5 in ACC play and the season would officially be at risk of going down the NIT tubes. The Streak is a nice narrative for this game but the more immediate one is the current season. Clemson is the first of four games UNC really needs to win if there is any hope of pulling the ACC season out of the present nosedive.
Unlike last Saturday, when UNC got a reprieve of sorts facing Boston College's porous defense, there will be no such walk in the park against Clemson. The Tigers have proven themselves to be a tough on the defensive end. Given UNC's offensive struggles both at home and on the road, it stands to reason this will be another slow tempo, grind it out type of game where every possession is a precious commodity. Those are the kinds of games that have truly been killers for the Tar Heels, especially if Clemson finds some semblance of offensive consistency.
The starting lineup will continue to be a focus. Roy WIlliams has employed two different lineups in as many games opting for Jackson Simmons and Leslie McDonald against Boston College then going back to Joel James at the five against Virginia with McDonald getting his second start of the season. McDonald's play against Virginia didn't necessarily solidify his position as a starters. Even Roy Williams has said McDonald hasn't really earned the spot but the need to put a shooter on the floor as a means of making the defense adjust is the primary reason for the change.
There is also a question of whether Kennedy Meeks is doing enough to get himself in the lineup as a starter or more playing time in general. Meeks has been effective on the offensive end over the past two games and after the Virginia game was honored as the Tar Heels' top defender. His conditioning is still an issue as it certain fundamental aspects to his game. With limited options, Meeks may end up being the best available choice.
In the end, it's very simple. A win here breathes a little extra life into the current season and keeps The Streak rolling for at least another season. A loss pushes UNC deeper into a hole from which the Tar Heels may not fully be able to extract themselves from with the schedule that remains. In addition to a season gone off the rails, this team would carry the stigma of being the one that let Clemson win a game in Chapel Hill. Even the 2002 didn't let that happen.
UNC 74 Clemson 65