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UNC Basketball: Can the Tar Heels use their February schedule to make a NCAA Tournament push?

A terrible college basketball season may save Carolina’s chances to make The Big Dance, but can they capitalize?

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: JAN 27 North Carolina at NC State Photo by Jaylynn Nash/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The North Carolina Tar Heels are suddenly on a two-game winning streak to close out the month of January, and have a good chance to extend said streak against Boston College this Saturday. From there, things get pretty hairy as the difficulty in their schedule ramps up considerably for the rest of the season. When looking at a glass half empty, this next month of basketball could bury the chances that the Heels have of making the NCAA Tournament through any means other than somehow winning the ACC Tournament. However, a glass half full will tell you that winning a majority of the games in February could make a lucrative case to the tournament committee.

Here is UNC’s remaining 2019-20 basketball schedule:

vs. Boston College (Home)

vs. No. 5 Florida State (Away)

vs. No. 9 Duke (Home)

vs. Wake Forest (Away)

vs. Virginia (Home)

vs. Notre Dame (Away)

vs. No. 6 Louisville (Away)

vs. NC State (Home)

vs. Syracuse (Away)

vs. Wake Forest (Home)

vs. No. 9 Duke (Away)

As of right now, the Tar Heels will face three ranked opponents in the month of February and take on Duke one more time in March. In an unrealistic world where they manage to sweep their remaining schedule, I think this team makes a strong case to get an invite to The Big Dance. However, even a ranked Carolina team wouldn’t sweep this remaining schedule, and so that leaves us with the one question: what is the likely result for the Tar Heels to close out the regular season? To answer that question, we’re going to break down the ranked part of their schedule, the unranked part of their schedule, and finally, I will predict how many of the final 11 games this team could win, and whether or not it would be good enough to make things really interesting prior to the ACC Tournament in Greensboro.

Ranked Opponents

On paper, if there’s a list of ranked teams that anybody would want to face right now, I’m convinced Florida State, Duke, and Louisville would be left out. This sounds like a terrible thing when it comes to the Heels, and in a way it is, but also having a winning record in these four ranked matchups would be huge in building their case. The really nice part about these teams? All of them have some head-scratching losses.

Florida State’s losses this season consist of Pitt, Indiana, and Virginia. Half of Pitt’s wins in the ACC so far were over the Heels, Indiana is objectively good this year with some other good wins against ranked opponents on their resumé, and Virginia is an enigma so far in ACC play with losses against Boston College, Syracuse, the Seminoles, and NC State. What’s Florida State’s best win so far? Their win against Louisville. This team could be for real, but the drop-off in win quality is pretty noticeable despite beating formerly ranked teams in Florida and Tennessee, both of whom are .600 so far this season.

Louisville perhaps is the team that is the most troublesome, as their only losses at the time of writing are to Kentucky, Florida State, and Texas Tech. They managed to win against Duke in Cameron Indoor, which is always a task for any team, but outside of that win there’s not much to get excited about. Regardless, the Tar Heels don’t want to go up against Jordan Nwora even if Cole Anthony is back by then, and it would be nothing but a headache for this wounded team.

Finally, there’s Duke. Every time the Blue Devils and the Tar Heels face off, any and every metric that you can analyze pretty much have to be thrown out the window (though never forget they lost to Stephen F. Austin at home). It’s a heavyweight fight whenever these two teams square off, and I expect no different this year. If I were to pick my biggest concern about this year’s Duke team, it has to be Cassius Stanley. He has in my opinion been the biggest surprise for their team this year, as he is currently averaging 50% from the field and is scoring 12.2 points per game. The biggest reason to be optimistic? Vernon Carey is averaging 24.6 minute per game, and whenever he goes to the bench Brooks and Bacot could capitalize in a major way should Coach K decide to give him rest.

Overall, to say the Tar Heels would win each game against these teams is unrealistic, but to say they can’t win any is also stretching the truth. Realistically I see them going 2-2 in these games, but neither 3-1 or 1-3 would surprise me. These teams are either legit or they’re not, and facing a suddenly surging Carolina team is a good way to find out.

Unranked Opponents

The unranked portion of Carolina’s schedule is kind to say the least, but this season is hard to trust as far as easy wins are concerned. Here’s what we know: Carolina currently holds a loss to Virginia and a win against NC State and Notre Dame, all of whom they face off against one more time. Outside of those games are Boston College, Syracuse, and Wake Forest, with Syracuse being the only team in the top half of the ACC rankings thanks to an easy start to their ACC schedule (I mean come on, we knew Virginia couldn’t shoot against that 2-3 zone).

Assuming Cole Anthony comes back sooner than later, I think it’s very possible to sweep this portion of their remaining schedule. Naturally my biggest concern is Virginia, but outside of the Cavaliers there’s no other team that stands out as concerning as long as the Heels continue to play the way they have been playing. My gut tells me that they will go 6-1 in these matchups, but if they want to make the NCAAT without having to win big in Greensboro, they’ll have to prove me wrong.

Final Prediction

Overall, my prediction is that as long as this team gets Cole Anthony back before taking on Florida State this team will go 8-3 the rest of the way giving them a final regular season record of 18-13. It’s still enough to at least entertain the tournament committee, as good wins and losses against Q1 opponents would be included, but they’ve suffered so many bad losses that nothing is guaranteed. I think it’s fair to say that we still should expect their best chance to make it to the NCAA Tournament to be winning the ACC Tournament, which is both unfortunate and also a little exciting at the same time. After all, when was the last time UNC had an underdog story that could be potentially written? Sometimes you have to take what you can get from a dysfunctional season.