North Carolina-NC State Preview
North Carolina found itself in trouble last month after yet another costly ACC loss. Nine consecutive wins later, the Tar Heels need two more in the last four games to clinch a double-bye in the ACC tournament.
Having re-entered the Top 25 this week at No. 19 after a seven-week absence, North Carolina seeks its first 10-game run since its 2008-09 national championship season Wednesday night at North Carolina State.
An 11-7 overall record and 1-4 conference mark after a loss at Virginia on Jan. 20 are distant memories for North Carolina (20-7, 10-4), which completed a 4-0, eight-day stretch with Saturday's 105-72 home win over Wake Forest. The Tar Heels shot 57.4 percent and went 11 of 15 on 3-pointers en route to their highest scoring output of the season.
"Everything looks so much better when the ball goes in the basket," coach Roy Williams told the school's official website. "And that's what happened (on Saturday). We've played pretty good basketball here in this whole stretch, not just in these eight days."
Leslie McDonald had 19 points after scoring a game-high 21 in Thursday's home win over Duke. Six North Carolina players reached double figures against the Demon Deacons.
North Carolina has had the advantage of playing three of its last four at home, and three of its final four contests will be away from Chapel Hill. The Tar Heels have won three in a row on the road but are 4-4 in true road games, the result of three straight ACC road losses prior to the winning streak.
"Nobody on this team wants to go back to that place," said forward James Michael McAdoo, second on the team with 14.4 points per game. "We don't want to have a bunch of what-ifs at this point in the season. We all have big goals and aspirations, so I think that just helps us become hungrier."
A win at North Carolina State (17-10, 7-7) would complete an unbeaten February, which started with an 84-70 home win over the Wolfpack on Feb. 1. McDonald scored 20 points while McAdoo had 16 and 13 rebounds.
With two more wins, the Tar Heels would be off for the first two rounds of the conference tournament. They're in fourth place and seeking one of the ACC's four double byes.
Earning one of those victories may require containing North Carolina State's T.J. Warren, the conference's top scorer with 23.3 points per game. He's been especially dominant in the last four contests, averaged 27.0 points after a 31-point effort in Saturday's 71-64 win at Virginia Tech that ended the Wolfpack's two-game skid.
"T.J. was aggressive and did a great job," coach Mark Gottfried told the school's official website. "He does so much to help our team. He's a tough player to defend."
The Wolfpack play three of their last four at home, where they've won four straight. In seventh place in the ACC and with an 0-3 record against Top 25 opponents, they're in need of a big win to boost their NCAA tournament hopes.
Such victories haven't often come against North Carolina, winner of 15 of the last 16 meetings. However, the then-No. 18 Wolfpack won 91-83 at Raleigh on Jan. 26, 2013, with Warren scoring 19 off the bench in his first game against North Carolina.