The Saturday-Monday split isn’t new to the Tar Heels, who will be making the short turnaround in ACC play for the third time in five weeks.
UNC opened its conference slate with a 74-50 win at Clemson on Jan. 3 and then lost at home to No. 8 Notre Dame, 71-70, on Jan. 5. Last week, the Tar Heels held off Florida State, on 78-74, on Saturday before dismantling Syracuse’s zone in a 93-83 victory on Monday.
UNC is the only ACC member to endure the Saturday-Monday three times in the first five weeks of 2015, although Virginia, Pittsburgh and Georgia Tech will join the Tar Heels by season’s end. N.C. State, Wake Forest and Miami are the only conference teams that won’t play on a Monday night in the regular season.
With such a short window between games, travel and tip time factor heavily into a team’s ability to recover physically and prep mentally. UNC’s win at Clemson tipped shortly after 8pm, giving the players less than 45 hours to travel back to Chapel Hill and get ready for the Fighting Irish.
“To me it’s a lot tougher if you play Saturday night and then have to travel,” UNC head coach Roy Williams told reporters on Friday. “I’m glad that we have a 4 o’clock game instead of a 7, or whatever it was, because that helps you get back home.“
Williams noted that the short turnaround would be a significant disadvantage if one of the Monday participants didn’t have to play on the previous Saturday, but the ACC delivered a balanced schedule. Every team scheduled for a Monday night contest plays on the Saturday prior.
The Tar Heels already have plenty of experience with short breaks between games. They opened the season with a Friday-Sunday combo and then played three days in a row at the Battle 4 Atlantis in late November.
UNC also played four conference games in a nine-day stretch, starting on Jan. 18 against Virginia Tech and ending on Monday against the Orange. The Tar Heels won all four games.
“That was a pretty long stretch of us playing and practicing at the same time,” junior forward Brice Johnson said. “We didn’t really get an off day, so Jonas [Sahratian] and Doug [Halverson] really stretched us out. We did the recovery things that we really need to do to be able to stay fresh and be able to come out and not be sluggish in the next game.”
Games on Saturday and Monday place a dual emphasis of rest and prep on the day in between.
“Sunday’s got to be very short to get their legs back and focus a little bit on the other team,” Williams said, “and then hope that you’ve done enough throughout the course of the whole season that you will be okay.”
Without media availability between the Saturday-Monday split, reporters have been tasked with asking questions about the second opponent for preview stories, although the success rate for quality responses is rather low. That goes with the territory as coaches and players are laser focused on the next opponent.
Williams joked that after Saturday’s game he would ask which team was next on the schedule. Next up after the visit to Louisville is a visit from undefeated Virginia on Monday.
“They’ve done a great, great job, and in saying that, I’ve watched – I don’t know that I’ve watched them more than two minutes,” Williams said of the Cavaliers.
The other benefit of a quick turnaround, of course, is in preparation for the NCAA Tournament, in which games are scheduled in Thursday/Saturday and Friday/Sunday pairings.
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