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UNC Basketball: Trouble Ahead with NC State

The Wolfpack have a pattern after losses, and it could spell trouble for the Tar Heels.

NCAA Basketball: N.C. State at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Carolina fans are used to laughing at the little brother school from Raleigh. Hubert Davis is undefeated against NC State, carrying on a tradition on behalf of his previous boss Roy Williams, a man whose hatred for the red and white is famous.

Chuckles abound from Chapel Hill when they hear the phrase “Kevin Keatts is a winner” which is a factually true statement. His 90-68 record at NCSU is +22, and he did guide the Wolfpack to the NCAA Tournament (first round) in 2017-18.

Unfortunately for UNC fans, the time for laughing might be over.

NC State is 20-7 this season, 10-6 in conference play, which is better than Carolina in both regards. More impressive? While the Tar Heels have endured both four and three-game losing streaks, the Wolfpack have yet to suffer consecutive defeats so far this season.

Worse still? In six of the wins following a loss, NC State has won by double-digit margins, including the 24-point win over Duke after losing to Clemson, and a 30-point win at Boston College after losing to Virginia.

NC State just lost to Syracuse on Tuesday night. The Orange (gasp!) shot more than three times the amount of free throws as the Wolfpack (17 to 5). The referees even made some questionable calls. Naturally, the Syracuse deep state and ACC are conspiring to keep NCSU down, it’s always somebody else’s fault.

It’s with this cocktail of crazy that Carolina must walk into PNC Arena on Sunday afternoon trying to right the ship and keep their NCAA Tournament hopes alive. Can the Tar Heels cope? If the UNC team that played at Wake Forest or failed to shoot from downtown against Miami shows up in Raleigh, probably not. If the team that beat NC State by 11 already this season, or shot 15-33 from deep against Clemson shows up, now we’re cooking.

Anyone wearing blue in that arena on Sunday, keep your head on a swivel. State fans were riled up after star guard Terquavion Smith took a hard foul from Leaky Black. Fortunately for all basketball fans, “Baby T” escaped injuries and has been playing heavy minutes for the Wolfpack (save a foul-saddled 21-minute appearance against Wake Forest) and averaging 17.1 ppg since the loss at Chapel Hill. Smith is doing just fine and will probably look to explode against the Heels.

Will Leaky’s head be on straight when he’s subjected to howling abuse from NC State fans? Will RJ Davis and Caleb Love win their back court battles and shoot at a good enough clip? Can Armando Bacot keep his foul troubles under wraps for a tough battle against DJ Burns? Can Pete Nance bury his lower back pain and give the Tar Heels something, anything from the four spot?

If the answer to any of these questions are “No,” Carolina will be on dangerously thin ice come March.