Heels' big win creates questions
Posted February 21
For thousands of North Carolina fans, Thursday’s 74-66 win by the Tar Heels over Duke was an answered prayer.
But looking at it from another angle, the outcome created more questions than answers on some fronts.
Is Leslie McDonald really back?
Keep in mind that the Heels’ fifth-year senior wingman erupted for 20 points in an 84-70 win in Chapel Hill over N.C. State on Feb. 1 only to go cool again during ensuing wins over Maryland, Notre Dame, Pitt and Florida State.
McDonald’s 21 points on 9-for-12 field goal shooting against Duke arguably was the best performance of his college career.
Against Wake Forest on Saturday in Chapel Hill (Noon, WRAL-TV) and in the games beyond, McDonald doesn’t have to score 21. But in order for the Tar Heels (19-7, 9-4 ACC) to continue this surge, someone other than Marcus Paige needs to contribute regularly on the perimeter.
Free throw mirage?
After starting 1-for-8 on free throws, Carolina was near perfect to finish 20-for-31 for the game. That computes to 64.5 percent for the game, which is in tune with the team’s 62.3 percent for the season.
But with sub Desmond Hubert missing six by himself, the first seven players in the rotation went 18-for-23 for 78.2 percent. Anything above 70 percent from that group would make the Heels significantly stronger.
On the flip side, Duke went 7-for-12 (58.3 percent) after having led all ACC teams entering the game with a 73.3 percentage.
Freshman forward Jabari Parker missed three of six Thursday but since he’s a 74 percent shooter for the season, the performance no doubt was an anomaly that may have had something to do with the fact that it was his visit to the Dean Dome as a Duke player.
The loss wasn’t enough to push the Blue Devils (21-6, 10-4) out of contention for an NCAA No. 1 regional seeding.
At the moment, Duke would probably be a No. 2 behind Syracuse, Wichita State, Florida and Arizona.
But a win over the Orange (25-1, 12-1) Saturday (7 p.m., ESPN) in Durham could rearrange the pecking order.
For Carolina, Thursday’s win was a field flipper.
Before the win, the Heels had the look of a No. 6-8 seed even with their non-league wins over Kentucky, Louisville and Michigan State.
But now, UNC is the first team ever to beat the Nos. 1-4 preseason Associated Press ranked teams and should be no worse than a No. 4 regional seed if the field was set today.
Assuming there is no letdown against Wake (14-12, 4-9) on Saturday, UNC’s sudden national surge would only increase the incentive for State (16-10, 6-7) on Wednesday (8 p.m., WRAL-TV) in Raleigh.
Few teams in the nation are more in need of a marquee win than the Wolfpack. Carolina officially qualifies as a glamour opportunity now.
Then, there’s Virginia (22-5, 13-1), which has the league lead entering its Saturday game against Notre Dame (14-13, 5-9) in Charlottesville.
The Cavaliers would prefer to open their NCAA tourney in Raleigh’s PNC Arena on March 21 and 23. But with each UNC win, the odds increase that the Heels will join Duke in Raleigh while UVa could be sent to Orlando, Buffalo or St. Louis to open.
Letdown or rebound?
On the Las Vegas betting boards, UNC and Duke were seen as dead even. A couple of books even had the Devils a 1-point favorite.
But No. 1 Syracuse was a prohibitive favorite to put away Boston College before the Eagles pulled the 62-59 stunner on Wednesday in Syracuse.
So how do the Devils and Orange react Saturday?
My guess is neither team will be flat, but there’s no denying the fact that Syracuse’s offense has been sluggish in the five games since that memorable 91-89 win over the Devils on Feb. 1 in Syracuse.
Undefeated teams sometimes have a tendency to play with a “don’t-lose” mentality as opposed to “just win, baby” mindset.
In that respect, Syracuse could be much more loose than has been the case recently even though the game is in Cameron. Meanwhile, the emotional Blue Devils need to avoid the urge to try to win a 40-minute game on the first few possessions.