By R.L. Bynum
As North Carolina continues its breakthrough season in Coach Courtney Banghart’s third year, the comparisons to a Tar Heels team that made the Sweet 16 team seven years ago keep piling up.
Another one got added Monday.
The Tar Heels (21–5, 11–5 ACC) jumped six spots to No. 18 Monday in the AP Top 25 poll after winning at home against Louisville (23–3, 14–2) 66–65 (which fell one spot to No. 4) and at Florida State 64–49. It’s the highest UNC rank since that 2014–15 team finished the season 26–9 and No. 15 in the final poll.
Carolina is also No. 18 in the coaches poll, which came out Tuesday, moving up five spots.
Earlier that 2014–15 season, that team was ranked as high as No. 6. Other accolades for this year’s team that are the best since 2014–15 are 21 wins, the seven road wins that match that season and the four road wins that match that season. Carolina can pass those last two marks with a win Thursday at Virginia (5–20, 2–15).
Who knows how far this team goes? But matching — or even surpassing — that team’s Sweet 16 run wouldn’t be surprising. That season, there were three top-10 ACC teams (No. 2 Notre Dame, No. 7 Florida State and No. 8 Louisville). Carolina was the No. 4 seed in the Greensboro Regional and lost 67–65 to No. 3-ranked and No. 1-seed South Carolina in the regional semifinal after the Tar Heels had upset the Gamecocks a year earlier.
The Tar Heels’ highest previous ranking this season was No. 19 in the Jan. 3 poll after beating Syracuse 79–43 and Clemson 81–62. The Tar Heels have been ranked 10 of the last 11 weeks since debuting in the poll at No. 25 on Dec. 13.
WUNC’s Mitchell Northam, the only North Carolina-based voter, has State No. 3 and Carolina No. 11.
Of the out-of-state voters, David Cloninger of The Post and Courier in Charleston, S.C., had the Tar Heels the highest at No. 13. Chantel Jennings of The Athletic was the only voter to leave UNC off of her ballot.
Jennings’ ballot is strange in other ways, though. She kept Louisville at No. 3 and still ranked Georgia Tech two spots ahead of Notre Dame despite the Irish beating the Jackets in Atlanta last week.
Louisville rebounded from the loss in Chapel Hill with a 70–56 win over Virginia Tech. The Hokies (20–7, 14–4), who blew out Syracuse 102–53, stayed at No. 23. N.C. State (16–1, 7–1), which routed Wake Forest 92–61 and Syracuse 95–53 to clinch the ACC regular-season title, moved up a spot to No. 3.
Thirteen teams ranked in last week’s poll lost, including four (Indiana, Tennessee, Oklahoma and Georgia Tech) that lost twice.
The three teams that were directly ahead of UNC in last week’s poll all lost: Virginia Tech, Iowa (moved up one spot to No. 21 after losing to Maryland 81–69 but beating Indiana 96–91) and Georgia (fell from No. 21 to No. 25 after beating Missouri 74–59 but losing to Auburn 65–60).
Georgia Tech (19–8, 10–6) has lost four of its last five games. The Jackets fell from No. 16 to No. 22 after losing 72–66 in overtime to Notre Dame and 51–39 to Miami. The Irish (20–6, 12–4) are up five spots to No. 14 after that win over the Yellow Jackets.
The Tar Heels are alone in fifth place in the ACC, a game behind Notre Dame and Virginia Tech, and still, have a shot at earning a double-bye in the ACC Tournament. If UNC sweeps its two games this week against Virginia and Duke (16–10, 7–9) and the Hokies lose to either Miami or N.C. State, the Heels would get a double-bye.
AP Top 25
Others receiving votes: Oregon 44, Kansas 39, Princeton 16, UCF 8, Washington State 6, Villanova 5, Liberty 3, UNLV 2, Toledo 2, Dayton 1. (Point values in parentheses indicate the number of first-place votes.)
UNC season statistics
day, time, TV
|9||92–47 win, 1–0||Home||N.C. A&T|
|14||89–33 win, 2–0||Road||Charlotte|
|17||89–44 win, 3–0||Home||Appalachian State|
|21||79–46 win, 4–0||Road||TCU|
|26||72–59 win, 5–0||Bimini, Bahamas||X — VCU|
|27||58–37 win, 6–0||Bimini, Bahamas||X — Washington|
|December (6–0, 2–0 ACC)|
|1||82–76 win, 7–0||Road||Y — Minnesota|
|5||93–47 win, 8–0||Home||James Madison|
|12||107–46 win, 9–0||Home||UNC Asheville|
|19||76–63 win, 10–0, 1–0 ACC||Road||Boston College|
|21||83–47 win, 11–0||Home||Alabama State|
|30||79–43 win, 12–0, 2–0||Home||Syracuse|
|January (4–4, 4–4 ACC)|
|2||81–62 win, 13–0, 3–0 ACC||Home||Clemson|
|6||72–45 loss, 13–1, 3–1||Road||No. 3 N.C. State|
|9||71–46 win, 14–1, 4–1||Home||No. 23 Virginia Tech|
|16||70–64 loss, 14–2, 4–2||Road||No. 14 Notre Dame|
|20||61–52 win, 15–2, 5–2||Home||Virginia|
|23||55–38 loss, 15–3, 5–3||Road||No. 22 Georgia Tech|
|27||78–62 win, 16–3, 6–3||Road||Duke|
|30||66–58 loss, 16–4, 6–4||Home||No. 3 N.C. State|
|February (5–1, 5–1 ACC)|
|3||78–59 win, 17–4, 7–4||Road||Wake Forest|
|6||85–38 win, 18–4, 8–4||Home||Miami|
|10||64–54 win, 19–4, 9–4||Home||Pittsburgh|
|13||66–61 loss, 19–5, 9–5||Road||No. 23 Virginia Tech|
|17||66–65 win, 20–5, 10–5||Home||No. 4 Louisville|
|20||64–49 win, 21–5, 11–5||Road||Florida State|
|24||Thursday, 7, ACCNX||Road||Virginia|
|27||Sunday, 4, ACCN||Home||Duke|
Photo courtesy of UNC Athletics Communications