Last year, a win against Duke would have given the Tar Heels the regular-season crown outright. Instead, the loss forced them to share. However, UNC kept the top seed in the conference tournament by virtue of the tie-breaking rules.
Which brings us to the present -- a time when the Tar Heels need a firetruck ladder to reach the top branch. The Tar Heels (7-18, 3-11) sit alone on the ACC's bottom rung, gloomy faces in hands.
But wait, here comes the squadron. If tonight UNC beats Clemson (13-15, 4-11), the only conference foe yet to burn the Tar Heels this season, and Georgia Tech downs Florida State (11-14, 4-10) on Saturday, UNC ties for last and gets to skip the tournament's dreaded play-in game. This of course all assumes a loss at Duke, barring Coach K Court's freezing over, and a Maryland win at FSU tonight.
Here's why: If three teams find themselves tied, seeding is determined by each team's record against the other two. UNC would be 3-1 in this scenario, above FSU (2-2) and CU (1-3).
"That's plain and simple," Kris Lang said after the Feb. 17 win against FSU. "The goal is to not play in the play-in game and win every game the rest of the season. We want to have the storybook ending."
But if the Tigers win, the Tar Heels' last streak standing crumbles -- Clemson is 0-47 in Chapel Hill. That's how Jason Capel and Lang would end their careers at the Smith Center.
"It certainly is an amazing streak," said UNC coach Matt Doherty. "If we let it bother us, it will."
Doherty said he talked about the streak, but the team isn't too concerned.
"We just want to climb the ladder, one game at a time, one step at a time," said Melvin Scott.
Time is just about out.
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