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UNC basketball: The conference logjam

None of them are against ranked teams, but UNC’s next three games could decide their season.

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

We’re a long way away from where we were a few weeks ago. The Heels now control their own destiny in the ACC standings—if they win out, they’re guaranteed a top-4 place in the standings and a double-bye for the ACC tournament. The less games this UNC team has to play, the better. As we’ve gotten deeper into the season, the starters have been on the court for far more than they were at the beginning of the year.

Four teams are within a game and a half behind the Heels in the standings, and two of them are still on the Heels’ regular season schedule. A third is, of course, Duke, which is half a game in front of the Heels in the standings. So three out of the Heels’ final four regular season games are against teams separated by two wins in the standings. Game on.

The Heels visit Louisville this Saturday, and the Cardinals are only half a game behind the Heels. They then visit mid-table Syracuse before coming home one final time to face the Miami Hurricanes, one and a half games behind them in the standings. And then, of course, is Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Mathematically speaking, the Heels could be as high as second or as low as twelfth in the standings by the time all the games have been played. Mixing things up even further is that Duke and Louisville are still on each other’s schedule. Of the teams chasing them, the Heels should most be concerned about Miami. Of the five remaining games for the Canes, only the Heels are ranked higher above Miami in the ACC standings. The Cardinals meet the aforementioned Duke and UNC and also have a visit to Virginia pending.

One untimely loss could mean the difference between an extra game the team has to play. Play hard now, rest later. It’s officially crunch time.