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UNC vs. Wake Forest: Three Things to Watch

It’s senior night at the Smith Center, and the Tar Heels look to continue momentum.

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NCAA Basketball: North Carolina at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

It’s almost over, fans. A 2019-20 season that had way more downs than ups sees the last game played in the Smith Center tomorrow night as the Wake Forest Demon Deacons come calling on Senior Night.

The Tar Heels come in riding high on a two game winning streak and playing one of their best efforts of the season in Syracuse in front of the media circus that was Tom Brady, Julian Edelman, and Jimmy Fallon. Seriously, what were those three doing in Syracuse? You have to think it’s going to be for a bit later, right?

Things will be a little bit calmer in the Dean Dome tomorrow night as both teams play their penultimate game of the regular season. So here’s what to watch for tomorrow night on the ACC Network:

Continuing Momentum

Fans are finally getting a taste of what it would be like when everything is going right with the players they expected to get a lot of minutes this season. Granted, everything looks better when the ball goes into the basket, but for two games in a row the Tar Heels have thoroughly outplayed their opponents, and the offense has been clicking.

In other words, as the season has progressed, a Roy Williams team has improved.

There’s no use in playing the “ifs” and “then” game with this squad, as we all know that the various injuries just took away any chance of continuity. Still, how they play now can continue to pay dividends, even if we don’t see it now. Leaky Black and Garrison Brooks will be coming back next season, and Armando Bacot is looking more likely to do so as well. Getting this feeling of doing what it takes to win, and building those habits, will be key as this roster is looking at another massive turnover next season.

The momentum is also important for Cole Anthony, as he has a small window to show off for NBA scouts. Perhaps the most dialed in draft expert, the Athletic’s Sam Vecenie, has Cole seventh right now ($), and he’s unlikely to get the NCAA Tournament to boost it any more. This makes these last few games are important for him. In the last two, he’s gone 15-27, including 8-15 from behind the arc, and had 12 assists to 7 turnovers. More important than that, though, has been the chemistry he’s developed with Garrison Brooks. In what will likely be his last game in Chapel Hill, there’s hope that he’ll continue that upward trajectory.

Standings Implications

As referenced yesterday, both of these squads are basically locked into playing on ACC Tournament Tuesday, the key now is going to be figuring out which path each team will take.

If there is one great thing about mediocrity, there’s a chance that next week’s ACC Tournament is going to be one of the most compelling since the conference expanded to fifteen teams. The bottom six teams that’ll play will have a great chance of pulling at least one upset. These two in particular have had great showings against the top tier teams, Carolina almost upsetting Duke and Wake being able to complete the job. Wake winning would pretty much lock the Tar Heels into the bottom spot, while a Carolina win would be a huge step in helping Carolina avoid finishing in dead last.

We’ll know about the scenarios after Wednesday’s games, but at minimum a win could allow the Tar Heels to pack their white uniforms for one game at least.

Senior Night

It’s amazing to think about considering this season, but the final links to the 2017 National Championship will be playing their last home game tomorrow night in Chapel Hill. The mad hatter Shea Rush and Brandon Robinson suit up in the home locker room one more time, and will be prepared to hear the fans thank them for what they’ve done for the program.

There are a lot of things to be sad about this season, and near the top of the list has to be how disappointing a season it was for Robinson. The ankle injury he sustained in the only exhibition game seemed to nag him all season in one way or another, and it never really allowed him to get on track and be the senior leader the team needed.

Not lost in the festivities is that there are others who will be suiting up for the last time in Chapel Hill. Christian Keeling, Justin Pierce, Caleb Ellis, and Robbie O’Han all are going to play their last game on the Smith Center Court. As Keeling and Pierce are likely to see some significant minutes, it’ll be interesting to see how Roy spaces out the starters.

However it works out, fans should be ready to thank them all for the work they’ve put in at Chapel Hill. This season may not have gone like they had hoped, but they’ll still be family long after they take off the jersey for the last time.