By R.L. Bynum
DURHAM — After a historic Carolina victory over No. 4 Duke that could only be topped by a Final Four win against the Blue Devils, the Tar Heels guaranteed that they won’t have to deal with their rivals until the ACC Tournament final.
Before UNC’s impressive 94–81 victory Saturday to ruin Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s final game at Cameron Indoor Stadium, a semifinal matchup in Brooklyn appeared likely.
“It’s just really special,” Coach Hubert Davis said. “I’m so proud of them. They continue to hear stories and testimonies and the memories from me and Coach [Jeff] Lebo and Coach [Sean] May, and one of the things that I desperately wanted, I wanted them to have their own memories, their own testimonies, their own stories of making big shots, being in big moments in a Carolina uniform. They’re gathering that now. So, as a coach, that’s just really neat to see them have their own experiences and it’s just a lot of fun.”
Davis says he knows nothing about the quad system but the victory gave his team a second Quad 1 victory to end any NCAA bubble talk as UNC moved up in the NET rankings from 38 to 32.
It also made the Tar Heels’ path to Saturday night’s ACC championship game at Barclays Center significantly easier by earning the No. 3 seed. It will mean late nights for players and fans.
Davis hopes the week in Brooklyn will only build on the work his team did Saturday in Durham.
“I think it was important for us to be good against a good team,” Davis said. “I could just see throughout the game our confidence just growing from each possession and this is going to go a long way. But this is just the start. We’re not taking our foot off the gas pedal. We’re not celebrating and saying the season is over. Our hope is to go as far as we can in the ACC Tournament and our hope is to go as far as we can in the NCAA tournament.”
The Tar Heels are collectively 10–1 against teams they could potentially face in their half of the bracket, but 5–3 against the teams in the other half of the bracket they can’t meet until the championship game.
Carolina (23–8) will play in a quarterfinal game Thursday night at 9:30 (ESPN or ESPN2). The Tar Heels combined to go 5–0 in the regular season against the three possible opponents.
UNC will play the winner of Wednesday’s 9:30 game between No. 6-seed Virginia (18–12) and the survivor of Tuesday’s 7 p.m. first-round game. That final game of Tuesday’s first day of the event matches No. 11-seed Louisville (12–18) against No. 14-seed Georgia Tech (12–19).
The Tar Heels won the only regular-season meeting with the Cavaliers 74–58 on Jan. 8 in Chapel Hill and swept both games against the Cardinals and Yellow Jackets. Carolina beat Georgia Tech 79–62 on Dec. 5 in Atlanta and 88–65 on Jan. 15 in Chapel Hill. UNC topped host Louisville 90–83 in overtime on Feb. 1 and won 70–63 in Chapel Hill on Feb. 21.
If UNC makes the semifinals, No. 2-seed Notre Dame (22–9) would be the opponent at 9:30 Friday night if the favorites advance.
The Irish, which beat Carolina in South Bend, Ind., 78–73 on Jan. 5, play in a 7 p.m. quarterfinal Thursday. They’ll meet No. 7-seed Virginia Tech (19–12) or the winner of the 4:30 Tuesday first-round game between No. 10-seed Clemson (16–15) and No. 15-seed N.C. State (11–20).
The Tar Heels went collectively 5–1 against potential semifinal opponents, with the lone loss coming against the Irish. They won the only regular-season meeting against Clemson 79–77 on the road on Feb. 8 and swept two games against both N.C. State and Virginia Tech.
UNC beat the Wolfpack more convincingly than the final scores indicate, with a 100–80 victory in Chapel Hill on Jan. 29 and an 84–74 win on Feb. 26 in Raleigh. Carolina beat the Hokies 78–68 on Jan. 24 in Chapel Hill and 65–57 in Blacksburg, Va., on Feb. 19.
Against teams in the top half of the ACC Tournament bracket, the Tar Heels lost their only games against Miami (85–57 on Jan. 18) and Wake Forest (98–76 on Jan. 22), both on the road, swept Boston College (91–65 on Jan. 2 at BC and 58–47 on Jan. 26 in Chapel Hill), won at home against Florida State (94–74 on Feb. 12) and Syracuse (88–79 in overtime on Feb. 28) and won at Duke.
So, if UNC makes the championship game and doesn’t get a rematch with the Blue Devils, chances are there will be an opportunity to avenge an earlier loss.
ACC Tournament bracket
UNC season statistics
day, time TV
|5||83–55 exhibition win||Home||Elizabeth City State|
|9||83–67 win, 1–0||Home||Loyola Maryland|
|12||94–87 win, 2–0||Home||Brown|
|16||94–83 win, 3–0||Road||College of Charleston|
|20||93–84 loss, 3–1||Uncasville, Conn.||Y — No. 8 Purdue|
|21||89–72 loss, 3–2||Uncasville, Conn.||Y — No. 13 Tennessee|
|23||72–53 win, 4–2||Home||UNC Asheville|
|December (5–1, 1–0 ACC)|
|1||72–51 win, 5–2||Home||X — Michigan|
|5||79–62 win, 6–2, 1-0 ACC||Road||Georgia Tech|
|11||80–63 win, 7–2 ACC||Home||Elon|
|14||74–61 win, 8–2 ACC||Home||Furman|
|18||98–69 loss, 8–3 ACC||Las Vegas||Z — No. 7 Kentucky|
|21||70–50 win, 9–3 ACC||Home||Appalachian State|
|January (6–3, 6–3 ACC)|
|2||91–65 win, 10–3, 2-0 ACC||Road||Boston College|
|5||78–73 loss, 10–4, 2-1 ACC||Road||Notre Dame|
|8||74–58 win, 11–4, 3–1 ACC||Home||Virginia|
|15||88–65 win, 12–4, 4–1 ACC||Home||Georgia Tech|
|18||85–57 loss, 12–5, 4–2 ACC||Road||Miami|
|22||98–76 loss, 12–6, 4–3 ACC||Road||Wake Forest|
|24||78–68 win, 13–6, 5–3 ACC||Home||Virginia Tech|
|26||58–47 win, 14–6, 6–3 ACC||Home||Boston College|
|29||100–80 win, 15–6, 7–3 ACC||Home||N.C. State|
|February (7–2, 7–2 ACC)|
|1||90–82 OT win, 16–6, 8–3 ACC||Road||Louisville|
|5||87–67 loss, 16–7, 8–4 ACC||Home||No. 4 Duke|
|8||79–77 win, 17–7, 9–4 ACC||Road||Clemson|
|12||94–74 win, 18–7, 10–4 ACC||Home||Florida State|
|16||76–67 loss, 18–8, 10–5 ACC||Home||Pittsburgh|
|19||65–57 win, 19–8, 11–5 ACC||Road||Virginia Tech|
|21||70–63 win, 20–8, 12–5 ACC||Home||Louisville|
|26||84–74 win, 21–8, 13–5 ACC||Road||N.C. State|
|28||88–79 OT win, 22–8, 14–5 ACC||Home||Syracuse|
|5||94–81 win, 23–8, 15–5 ACC||Road||No. 4 Duke|
|— ACC Tournament —|
|10||Thursday, 9:30, ESPN or ESPN2||Brooklyn||Virginia, Louisville |
or Georgia Tech