clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Why the Tar Heels need a big January

The Tar Heels will look to build momentum early in preparation for February.

Monmouth v North Carolina Photo by Peyton Williams/UNC/Getty Images

The Carolina basketball players start class on Wednesday. After that, it’s all business. As the spring semester gets into full swing, it will only get harder for the Tar Heels. Work is assigned, schedules get busier, and the basketball games will get more challenging. They say that you shouldn’t be playing your best basketball in January and February, but it should be a steady learning curve towards March. This is true for Carolina, but since these two months will determine so much of the Heels’ destiny, it would be nice if they were at least playing pretty good basketball.

Let’s look at the upcoming January schedule for Carolina:

  • January 11 - at Wake Forest
  • January 14 - vs. #12 Florida State
  • January 16 - vs. Syracuse
  • January 21 - at Boston College
  • January 26 - vs. #21 Virginia Tech
  • January 28 - at Miami
  • January 31 - vs. Pittsburgh

These next seven games are crucial for UNC. Out of the seven, two are against teams currently ranked in the top 25, and three are away games in manageable venue environments. This period is where the Heels need to really figure out who they are as a team. Theo Pinson will be getting his game back and figuring out how he jives with this years’ team. Rotations will be finalized, and these guys will continue to progress and develop. Now, if UNC can have a great-not-good January, it will be the ultimate preparation for February. Here’s what February will bring:

  • #23 Notre Dame
  • #8 Duke (twice)
  • #11 Virginia (twice)
  • #9 Louisville

Oh yeah, and throw in another matchup with NC State and Pitt. That’s a full slate of games that could make or break the season. When thinking about NCAA tournament seeding, the committee will take into account both how UNC does against teams they should beat, and how they do in games where the opponent is equally matched or better. For the Heels, January is filled with games in that first category. Florida State and Virginia Tech have shown that they can play high quality basketball this season, but otherwise these January teams are games that Carolina should win.

However, sitting at 13-3 on the season with only one “bad” loss, the Heels don’t have to win all of them. I would expect that a 6-1 record in January would do just fine. February will bring many games in that second category. These will include three rivalry games, and three games against teams in the top 10. Also, these games will have major effect on the top of the ACC standings, ACC tournament seeding, and so on. A very important time to be playing high level basketball.

It won’t come easy for the Tar Heels. It starts wth a solid foundation and momentum built in January. Carolina, with the new addition of Theo Pinson, will need to take care of business in these winnable games early. A strong showing could kickstart 2017, and change the course of season. After Sunday’s date with NC State, UNC is back in action on Wednesday at 8:00 pm on ESPN2.