The one benefit of last year’s dumpster fire season was that UNC fans didn’t sweat being on the bubble. We weren’t even on the bubble! Barring Cole Anthony transforming into 2011 Kemba Walker and single-handedly dragging the team into March Madness, the end of the season was relatively stress-free. And with COVID-19 cancelling the 2020 NCAA Tournament, technically... technically Carolina didn’t miss it.
This season is different. The promise of youth was spoiled by the compacted schedule and instead of taking a raw Boston butt and putting it in the slow cooker with some brown sugar, apple cider vinegar, and red pepper flakes, Roy Williams was forced to throw that raw meat in the microwave and nuke it for an hour. The results are as expected: hardly ready to eat, diarrhea-inducing, and not something you’d really brag about labeling “Carolina.”
Not to fret, though. For this season, one unlike any other, one that has seen schedules torn asunder, one that has seen Kentucky, Kansas, and Duke fall by the wayside, success can be defined by simply making the NCAA Tournament. With Carolina currently sitting 12-6 (7-4 in ACC play), postseason play is not guaranteed. Fortunately, the daunting last quarter of the schedule has some highly-ranked opponents left that can bolster their resume without killing UNC’s chances in defeat. Since I haven’t been able to do a gif article since football season, let’s see how nervous we should be with each game left on the schedule.
Virginia (A) 2/13
God dammit. Recently, a trip to Charlottesville has been about as fun for the Tar Heels as a trip to the dentist.
UVa has won the last six games in a row, and the last six games at John Paul Jones Arena, dating back to 2013! And for a young UNC team looking to breathe offensively, there aren’t many line-ups as inconducive as the Cavs. Combine all of this bad mojo with the Miami game being cancelled, and I fear another Clemson-style loss to the Hoos.
VaTech (H) 2/16
I cannot get a good bead on the Hokies. Their record (3rd in the ACC) indicates a strong team. Their improved play is clear to the untrained eye. The transitive property of wins is all over the place. VaTech thrashed Virginia by 14 points with a second-half offensive explosion that won’t soon be forgotten on Mr. Jefferson’s grounds, or whatever. Scoring 65 against UVa is like scoring 110 points on a normal team. Buuut, VaTech lost by 11 to a Pitt team Carolina beat by 10, and got spanked by Syracuse (78-60!), a team Carolina beat by 6. I don’t get good vibes here.
Louisville (H) 2/20
The Cardinals have had six games postponed or cancelled due to Covid, including their last two. Head coach Chris Mack is positive (prayers up!) and away from the team. Fortunately, assistant coach Dino Gaudio has ACC-head coaching experience from his time at Wake Forest.
How many players will be available, and when will Mack be back on the sidelines will do a lot to determine how confident I am about this match-up. And I know about glass houses and all, but with Louisville on their second pause of the season and with four Covid cases confirmed on their team, I can’t help but think of David Rose in this situation.
Boston College (A) 2/23
If we’re serious about making the post season and being the type of North Carolina we all want to be, then Boston College, sufferers of giant Covid pauses and bottom of the ACC-standings, need to be put to the sword.
Florida State (H) 2/27
Carolina’s loss at Tallahassee wasn’t as bad as it seems on the box score. The Seminoles out-turnover’d the Tar Heels 17-14 and only had one more rebound (30-29). Where Florida State made their money was shooting the ball at a higher clip across the board, particularly at the foul line.
Going 26 for 27 from the charity stripe and getting all 11 UNC players who saw the court whistled is borderline offensive. Hopefully the friendly cardboard crowd can put some pressure on the refs to even out the foul calls. I know I’ll be there!
Syracuse (A) 3/1
Roy has Boeheim’s number, and if we get Cameron Indoor-Caleb Love and Kerwin Walton keeping the zone spaced and honest, there’s no reason Carolina doesn’t walk out of the Carrier Dome one step closer to the NCAA Tournament.
Duke (H) 3/6
Senior night for Garrison Brooks. A potential must-win to make the tournament. And a historically bad Duke team that has not improved as the season progressed. On February 11, 2021, I’d say that things look pretty good for Carolina. But I’d never take a game in the best rivalry in sports for granted.
There is a real chance that Duke could come into the Dean Dome 8-9 in ACC play. Carolina could ensure that the Blue Devils finish their season with a losing conference record. It’s only fair for the misery they piled on the Tar Heels during their historically calamitous season last year.
Last week’s game at Cameron ended up closer than it should have, and Matt Hurt didn’t hurt the Heels like he could have. Carolina will need to continue to take care of the ball, score in transition when they turn Duke over, and try to keep the Blue Devils from making huge runs whenever they go down 10-12. If UNC gets the formula right, they could easily win this game by double-digits. There can be no let up or rest. They need to make Coach K tap out.