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Sunday June 26th

Preview: UNC women's basketball faces obstacles, opportunity in ACC Tournament

UNC sophomore guard Deja Kelly (25) drives the ball into the paint during a home women’s basketball game against Duke on Sunday, Feb. 27, 2022, at Carmichael Arena.
Buy Photos UNC sophomore guard Deja Kelly (25) drives the ball into the paint during a home women’s basketball game against Duke on Sunday, Feb. 27, 2022, at Carmichael Arena.

With a 23-5 record and a top-10 NCAA NET ranking, the No. 16 North Carolina women’s basketball team has all but guaranteed its spot in the NCAA Tournament.

But with a weekend of basketball remaining before Selection Sunday, the ACC Tournament could go a long way in improving the Tar Heels’ seeding for March Madness. With ESPN’s Bracketology slating eight ACC teams to make the Big Dance, there will be plenty of opportunities for resume-defining wins.

On Friday, North Carolina will have a chance to earn one of those wins against fellow March-hopeful Virginia Tech. And if the Tar Heels win that game, things won’t get any easier, as they’ll likely face No. 3 N.C. State in the semifinal.

Here are three factors that could determine North Carolina’s success in Greensboro.

Proving they can beat the best

Despite upsetting then-No. 3 Louisville in Carmichael Arena, the Tar Heels have yet to reach the point of consistently beating some of the conference’s better teams. Four of UNC’s five losses have come against ranked opponents, and the fifth — a five-point road loss in Blacksburg, Va. — came against a Hokie side that has shot up to a No. 21 ranking since that contest.

By contrast, the Tar Heels only have two wins against opponents who were ranked at the time they played — the upset over Louisville and a rivalry win against a Duke team that is quickly slipping out of the NCAA Tournament discussion.

The Tar Heels, who are currently slated as five-seed by ESPN, have a realistic chance at improving their seeding before Selection Sunday. In the selection committee's recent top-16 ranking reveal, the Tar Heels were under the four-seed line — likely in large part because of their lack of high-quality wins.

If they’re able to advance in a stacked ACC Tournament field this weekend, every game will be a chance to bolster their NCAA Tournament resume.

In addition to Deja Kelly

Sophomore guard Deja Kelly is North Carolina’s primary scorer and has earned that title — she’s shooting a team-second best 35 percent from beyond the arc, has led UNC in scoring in 13 games this year and has an impressive offensive bag.

But when the Tar Heels are at their best, Kelly has major assistance on the offensive end. Take the Louisville win for example, when Kelly exceeded her average with 18 points but was aided by 19 and 9, respectively, from fellow sophomore guards Kennedy Todd-Williams and Alyssa Ustby.

Then, another of the Tar Heels most impressive wins — a 25-point blowout of Virginia Tech in January. Kelly contributed 15 points but was joined in double-digit scoring by three other players.

North Carolina can compete when Kelly is feeling it on the offensive end. But in order to beat some of the best teams in the nation in Greensboro, the Tar Heels will need to spread the wealth.

Rebound, rebound, rebound

North Carolina isn’t a particularly tall team, but they’ve been able to control the glass frequently this year.

Against Louisville, the Tar Heels grabbed 10 more boards than the Cardinals — pulling down an impressive 13 on the offensive end. Even in their recent matchup with the Wolfpack, the Tar Heels were able to keep the battle on the boards close, getting out-rebounded by just five against a serious national title contender.

Keeping opponents from getting second-chance points and earning some second-shots of their own has been key for the Tar Heels, as they’ve out-rebounded their opponents by eight boards per game this year. 

If they can compete on the glass with the best the ACC has to offer, then they can beat them.

@zachycrain

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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