North Carolina vs Pittsburgh, 1:00 PM, RSN
UNC faced Pitt to kick off a crucial three game home stand. Here are the focal point.
Near Death Experience
No, not Roy Williams' vertigo episode but rather avoiding what may have been the worst upset in recent ACC history. Just to recap, at the time of the game on Tuesday UNC was 5th in KenPom and Boston College was 255th. An Eagle win would have been an unmitigated disaster for the Tar Heels. It would have created a precarious situation in terms of UNC's ACC standing, especially with so many of the Tar Heels' upcoming opponents piling up in 2nd and 3rd place. The RPI damage would have been catastrophic not to mention it would have robbed the world of Boston College possibly going winless in both football and basketball.
Make no mistake, UNC stole one on Tuesday. In theory UNC gets the a loss level wake up call without the actual loss. Much like Virginia's win over Wake Forest that saw the Cavaliers rally from seven down in the final 20 seconds to win on a banked three at the buzzer, the win at Boston College can serve UNC similarly. Having faced its own mortality against the Eagles, UNC can potentially use that to springboard into a stretch run to win the ACC regular season.
Flipping the Switch
One hallmark of a Roy Williams team is hitting this part of the season and stepping up the level of play. UNC has shown glimpses of how good it can be but since grabbing two tough road wins at FSU and Syracuse, the Tar Heels have struggled with offensive consistency. The much talked about slumps from Marcus Paige and Justin Jackson have compromised UNC's offensive balance. At the same time some of the old questions from last season cropped up again, especially as it relates to finishing games.
Still, UNC is in solid position heading into the final seven games of the ACC schedule. The league schedule to this point hasn't exactly been the toughest in the ACC. That has led to the perception that while 9-2 and leading the ACC, UNC hasn't necessarily lived up to expectations. There is some merit to that but for the most part UNC has won games they should have and the two ACC losses so far were toss-up games. UNC is on track with the toughest part of the schedule fast approaching.
For past Roy Williams' teams, this segment of the calendar is generally when you see the Tar Heels begin answering the bell. UNC can answer most critics and begin securing a top seed in the NCAA Tournament starting with this game versus Pitt and racking up wins over teams in the higher ends of the RPI. If that happens, UNC will look very much like the team everyone thought it was before the season started.
This is very much a Justin Jackson and Marcus Paige question. Over the past two games both players have effectively shed slumps. Paige's effort did not result in a win but his 3-6 from three night plus Jackson's return from mediocrity helped UNC avoid a huge upset at the hands of Boston College.
What UNC needs now is for Paige and Jackson to find a way to play like they did last week more consistently. Jackson responded to being benched and also showed some anger in getting to 20 points versus Boston College. While such things are not generally in his nature. Jackson's tapping some raw emotion and translating that into a stellar outing is something the Tar Heels need more of over the next seven games. Jackson was assertive in looking to score and UNC needs as much of that as he can muster.
Likewise, Paige has found his shot from outside but it still feels as though he is settling for jumpers. For him to make it all the way back, Paige will need to show more ability to get into the lane. This is a part of his game seen many times over the previous four years but playing at the wing guard it seems he has eschewed attacking defense in favor of jump shots. This is more or less a balance issue. Yes, Paige needs to shoot and hit threes but he also needs to make his presence felt in different facets of the offense.
Whatever the case, Paige and Jackson's play will be critical in getting UNC through the next three home games which are most certainly games the Tar Heels should win.
UNC 90 Pitt 73