No. 4 ACC seed could be a plus for Heels
Posted March 3
When is fourth place better than second or third?
In North Carolina’s case - Duke as well for that matter - that sort of reverse logic could make sense at next week’s ACC Tournament in Greensboro.
Entering tonight’s game in Chapel Hill against Notre Dame (7 p.m., ESPN), the Tar Heels (22-7, 12-4 ACC) are tied for third with Duke (23-6, 12-4).
But technically, Carolina is third. Thanks to a 74-66 win over Duke on Feb. 20, the Tar Heels currently have the tiebreaker edge. That could change after Saturday’s final regular season game in Durham (9 p.m., ESPN).
The Devils go to Wake Forest (15-14, 5-11) on Wednesday (7 p.m., ESPNU).
Both still have a chance to overtake Syracuse (26-3, 13-3) for second place, but the Orange will be favored against Georgia Tech (13-16, 4-12) Tuesday and at Florida State (17-7, 8-8) on Sunday.
Virginia (25-5, 16-1) has clinched the regular season race regardless of the outcome at Maryland on Sunday.
In Greensboro, all four will not have to play until Friday’s quarterfinals. But if you happen to be among those who believe Duke and Syracuse are both actually better teams than Virginia, the No. 4 seed could be a nice landing spot.
In the brackets, No. 1 and No. 4 should wind up facing each other in Saturday’s first semifinal (1 p.m, WRAL-TV) in with No. 2 facing No. 3 in the 3:30 p.m. semi - assuming the favorites win on Friday.
For the first time a few years, Virginia will have a large fan turnout for the event and those fans will make their share of noise. But in Greensboro Coliseum, it’s a lock there will be will more light blue than any other color. It won’t be a full-blown home-court atmosphere, but Saturday could find half the 19,000 or so seats filled by Carolina fans.
There’s not much of a quarterfinal drawback either. The 4th-seed will likely will face 5th-seed Pitt (22-7, 10-6), who plays tonight against N.C. State (17-12, 7-9) at 9 p.m. The 5th seed will open the tournament on Thursday against the survivor of a Wednesday Nos. 12 vs. 13 game.
The third seed, for now, is in line to face No. 6 Clemson (18-10, 9-7). The No. 2 seed would face No. 7 (FSU at the moment) if the favorites win Thursday.
Virginia, on a 13-game win streak, would get No. 8 - possibly Maryland or State.
Roy Williams wouldn’t dare get caught talking about the tournament seedings yet, but it’s safe to assume neither he nor Mike Krzyzewski would like a third Duke-Carolina game in the ACC semifinals.
Duke was the only league team to beat Virginia (69-65 Jan. 13 in Durham) and there’s the fact that the Cavaliers buried Carolina (76-61, Jan. 20 in Charlottesville).
Shooting still the Heels’ X-factor
Regardless of where everyone is seeded in Greensboro, the Tar Heels will be a tougher challenge than Virginia and Syracuse faced in regular season.
During an 11-game win streak - dating back to that game at Virginia - UNC’s chemistry has gelled, the rotation has stabilized and no team in the conference is better on the boards. Add in the fact that the overall defense has improved significantly and it’s no surprise the Heels’ NCAA stock is such that a No. 2, 3 or 4 regional seeding is entirely possible.
There is, however, the lingering issue of perimeter and free throw shooting. If Carolina was a 70 percent free throw team (rather than 62 percent) and had a dependable perimeter option to go with point-guard Marcus Paige, there would not be a better team in the country.
But at this late date, it’s difficult to believe the shooting accuracy will make a sudden about-face. It’s not an impossibility but more than likely, Carolina will have to find ways to overcome the problem.
During the win streak, Carolina’s primary assets have been the offensive play of Paige and front-court depth.
Those are going to be the keys in Greensboro and beyond, too. With the improvement of Brice Johnson, Kennedy Meeks and J.P. Tokoto, the Heels gradually have meshed into a unit with entirely too much depth and diversity among its big men for opponents to counter.
Paige, in turn, has mushroomed as an offensive weapon and floor leader. He needs to stay healthy and get a few more rests during games, but there’s no reason to think he’ll go into a shooting slump now.
So in a nutshell, if they can convert a few more free throws and just get a decent offensive effort from Leslie McDonald, the Heels will win three in Greensboro and lock up an NCAA starting spot in Raleigh on March 21 and 23.
But dodging Duke until Sunday in Greensboro’s ACC title game would be a plus in both camps.