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Tar Heel Hangover: A very good week

Thoughts on a couple of key wins and the path forward.

NCAA Basketball: Duke at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the Tar Heel Hangover. This is our Monday morning opportunity to review last week’s action, second guess all of the key moments, and set the game plan for the week ahead.

The Elevator Speech: The State of the Team.

That was a great week. For the first time all year, the team looked like a viable national title contender. The second half against Duke was absolutely dominant and the team that pulled it off could have defeated anyone in the country.

A letdown on Saturday would have been understandable (if awful), but a very gritty effort pulled out the road win after less than 48 hours of rest.

More importantly, the two victories came in very different ways, and flexibility is the key to tournament runs.

Words of Wisdom? A Thought from MGD.

“Why don’t you research how many teams have to play three conference games in five days. In fact, when was the last time Carolina had to play three games in five days?”

The last time UNC had three scheduled conference games in five days was 1980. The answer to the second question, of course, is that one has to go all the way back to November. On the West Coast swing, the Heels actually played 4 games in 5 days (on Eastern time). Conference scheduling is of course a much different story and there is no reason in the world why Carolina should have been punished with this stretch. Look at it, however, from the standpoint of an opportunity and the momentum has swung squarely toward the light blue side. This is preparation for the tournament.

Although fatigue is certainly a concern going in to the final game of this short stretch, the biggest downside is that we simply have not had enough time to gloat over the last two tremendous victories.

Honestly, it would not take long to debunk the hedging from Duke fans about the rivalry not being important anymore or Carolina somehow being less of a worthy adversary. But a single day? The game on Thursday deserved multiple television highlight cycles and a couple of Bracketology publications.

Nevertheless, Raleigh beckoned and the Heels obliged. When asked about the schedule by My Grumpy Dad, I responded that the better question was how many teams this year endured a 19-0 run and still scored over 90 points on the way to a win. That is character, poise and firepower. That is a talented upperclassmen team with enough bench strength to provide rest. That is a tournament contender.

Lying In Bed, I Am Worried About. . .

For once this season, I am not going to worry on Sunday night. I am not concerned that on paper, the visit to NC State was the easiest regular season game left on the schedule. I am not even going to fret that from night to night a fan has no idea what the story line of the game will be.

Take Thursday’s matchup against Duke. All analysts viewed the game as the antithesis of every recent other UNC-Duke contest. Duke would dominate inside while Carolina would be perimeter oriented.

That narrative rang true for the first half but totally fell apart during the Heels’ masterful second frame. UNC outrebounded the “superior interior” of the Blue Devils by 11 in the second half and finished the game with a rebounding margin of +4. Duke only had two two-point field goal attempts in the closing eleven and a half minutes. Berry was excellent on the dribble drive and Cameron Johnson threw in a double double. A twelve point first half deficit was easily overcome with an eight minute burst surrounding halftime. Two turnovers for the game was perhaps the most impressive statistic.

Against NC State, the turnover number ran to 19 including some mind-numbingly frustrating giveaways that lead to quick points. A seven minute scoreless streak in the first half once again resulted in a hefty deficit (9 points this time). For the second time in three days, however, the Heels closed the first half well (7-0 run) and opened the second half on a tear (15-7 run) to take a lead that would not be surrendered. Luke Maye was amazing and Joel Berry II finished with another solid performance.

These two games shoewd balance in victory. Opposing coaches will have headaches trying to figure out how to stop this team.

Looking Ahead . . .

Don’t blink or you will miss the next game. Notre Dame comes to Chapel Hill tonight. Matt Ferrell has returned to the lineup for the Fighting Irish and fatigue may be a factor for the Heels.

A few days of well earned rest will then precede a trip to the Yum! Center for a matchup against Louisville. The Cardinals have slowly worked their way into the conversation of teams that could make a run in March. Saturday will be a physical matchup and a difficult road contest.

At this point, however, betting against the Heels seems to be a foolish gamble.