So how did UNC build such a resume?
It began with a big victory early in the season over Gonzaga — the lone No. 1 seed in the upcoming tournament not from the ACC — on Dec. 15 at home. In that game, the Tar Heels built a double-digit lead midway through the first half against the then-No. 4 team in the country, then coasted to the win while leading by no less than eight points at any point in the second half.
After two losses to Texas and Michigan in the first eight games of the year, that victory over the Bulldogs put the Tar Heels on the map. Headed into the big dance, UNC now has 10 Quadrant 1 wins, while all six of its losses came to other teams in that category.
The victory over Gonzaga was the first of four top-10 wins for UNC this season. While boasting eight top-25 wins, UNC lost to just one team that didn’t make the tournament in Texas.
UNC has had the third strongest schedule of anyone in the country, just behind Duke and Kansas, according to CBS Sports. Against that tough slate of opponents, the Tar Heels have proven to be a serious contender, well beyond their first big win over the Bulldogs.
Once January began, so did North Carolina’s first ever undefeated road record in the ACC. The Tar Heels finished 9-0 away from the Smith Center this season in a conference that earned seven bids to the NCAA Tournament.
With statement wins over No. 4 seeds Virginia Tech and Florida State, No. 7 seed Louisville, No. 8seed Syracuse and a regular season sweep of Duke for the first time since 2008-09, UNC has proven it can hang around anyone in the conference.
Going into its most recent game — a loss to Duke — UNC had also won eight games in a row.
That kind of stretch against tough conference opponents and their play on the road bodes well for the Tar Heels moving forward, where the games only get harder and every game will be far from the familiarity of Chapel Hill.
A style built for March
In its last game before Selection Sunday, North Carolina showcased what can be expected of it moving forward.
In a one-point loss in the ACC Tournament semifinals to Duke — who earned the No. 1 overall seed on Sunday — the Tar Heels ran the court at break-neck speed and at times, scored baskets at will. The pace of play by North Carolina was hard for the Blue Devils to keep up with, even with a huge advantage in first-year phenom Zion Williamson being back from injury.
The Tar Heels’ pace of play will likely be something many teams haven’t seen yet this season and could be a huge advantage for the team moving forward. Like it did against Duke, UNC may just exploit that speed difference on the way to a deep run in March.
The Tar Heels won’t be the best shooting team in March, nor is it likely they will find size advantages against most of their upcoming opponents. But when North Carolina runs the floor like it has been known for, it just might throw off the game plan of its foes, especially early in the bracket.
A well-conditioned team has the potential to make it all the way to the final game in April, even more than a physical or lights-out-shooting team can make a deep run.
Paired with being first in rebounds per game and third in the country in scoring, UNC has all the tools to make a deep run this March — and not just on paper.
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