With eight games left, and the toughest stretch all season ahead, the Tar Heels (14-7, 4-4) will need to decide what their goals are for the rest of the year. If the team is aiming for a decent year, it’s on track to do so, but if it has aspirations to get back to playing in March, the team must go on a run with the end of conference play coming up.
Contests against top ACC foes loom on the horizon, and the team can either use the schedule to its advantage — compiling a decent resume against those tough teams — or let the competition send it further toward the bottom of the conference.
It will start with the team’s next game on Thursday at Notre Dame at 7 p.m.
Where they’re at
The Tar Heels have performed to the level of expectation so far this season. Their ranking, ninth in the ACC, is right on par with the preseason coaches’ poll, but it also means they’ve been pretty predictable.
Outside of a bad loss to Boston College and the comeback win over Duke, North Carolina played to the level of its competition, beating inferior opponents and losing to superior ones. Through the first eight games, the team also ranks 11th in the ACC in RPI.
If the trend continues through the rest of conference play, it’ll be the team’s downfall. UNC has only faced two top-25 opponents in No. 11 Florida State and No. 15 Duke, but the rest of the way the team faces No. 4 Louisville, No. 5 Notre Dame and No. 19 Duke. Syracuse and N.C. State, who received votes in the latest poll, could also crack the rankings before the Tar Heels play them.
Outside of the rankings, six of the eight upcoming ACC opponents have better conference records. Georgia Tech (13-9, 2-7 ACC) and Virginia Tech (14-8, 3-6 ACC) are the only opponents UNC will face without being an underdog.
NCAA Tournament projections
Right now, UNC isn’t on the radar for bracket projections according to ESPN, though analyst Charlie Creme expects eight ACC teams in the tournament. The team won't be a 16 seed, one of the first four out, or even a team analysts are giving serious consideration to, but that doesn’t mean North Carolina doesn't have a shot at being one of the last 64 teams left in the country playing basketball.
Compared to the 2017 tournament, a 13 seed is still within reach for North Carolina. Last year, Chattanooga made the tournament as a 13 seed with 10 losses, but UNC has the advantage of playing in a tougher conference, which benefits the team come tournament time.
To work its way into the conversation, the team needs to finish the season at least 5-3 in the conference, and two wins will likely need to come against ranked opponents. Then, in the ACC tournament in Greensboro, the team at worst needs to reach the quarterfinals to finish with a record of (20-11, 9-7). Every conference team that reached the tournament last year was in the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament.
The road to the tournament will be a rough one for the Tar Heels, but if they can follow through with a decent run including a few big wins over opponents more talented than they are, they could at least be in the conversation for the NCAA tournament.
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