With the end of the regular season staring the North Carolina basketball team down, head coach Roy Williams is comfortable staring right back.
After an 88-64 victory against Maryland on Wednesday, UNC’s rematch against Duke at Cameron Indoor on Saturday will determine the ACC regular season title before the postseason picks up Thursday with the ACC tournament.
And at this point in the season, Williams is more than happy with the Tar Heels’ No. 6 position as they try to capture both upcoming ACC titles.
“It’s all I ask for,” Williams said Monday in his ACC teleconference. “I don’t know about everybody else, but I think you want to put yourself in position to win the conference championship the last week. And if you do that, you’ve also put yourself in position to be in the NCAA tournament.
“You’ve also put yourself in position to get a fairly good seed.”
Williams isn’t getting ahead of himself, either.
With UNC’s potential this week, Williams believes his team controls its own destiny — first with the regular season title, then in the conference tournament and eventually in March Madness.
Before the Tar Heels worry about their date to the dance, though, a stop in Atlanta for the ACC tournament tops North Carolina’s busy schedule.
The tournament begins Thursday in Philips Arena for the bottom eight seeds, with the top four seeds beginning play on Friday.
Depending on Saturday’s outcome at Duke, North Carolina will clinch the first or second seed.
“Here we are the last week of the season with a chance,” Williams said. “It’s not the greatest chance in the world, but with a chance to win the conference championship, which is where we’ve always wanted to be able to position ourselves.”
And both UNC’s win against Maryland and its matchup against the Blue Devils this weekend are crucial to that chance in the tournament as well.
Although the Tar Heels previously downed the Terrapins 83-74 in early February, Maryland worked senior big man Tyler Zeller into foul trouble early and played what John Henson afterward called one of the most physical games of UNC’s season.
Few need a reminder of the buzzer-beating 3-pointer from Duke’s Austin Rivers that handed the Tar Heels a second conference loss, 85-84. The game Saturday comes down to more than just revenge.
“We always talk about getting a championship and getting a ring, so that’s something that we’re competing for and we know we got a chance this week to get one,” Zeller said Tuesday. “So we’ve put ourselves in a great situation, but we’ve just got to make the most of it this week.”
The week’s tough competition will also come in handy for what Zeller called the “incredibly hard” task of playing three games in three days when the tournament does roll around.
No matter what, how North Carolina fares in its final minutes of ACC play will set the tone for what’s to come in March — especially in Atlanta, where UNC will take on its conference opponents all over again.
“If you take care of your business against teams in your league,” Williams said, “you’ll put yourself in a good position.”
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