The Tar Heels have won 16 of the 17 meetings with the Wolfpack, including 11 in a row at the Smith Center. Extending that streak would lock in UNC having a higher ACC Tournament seed than N.C. State at the Greensboro Coliseum in two weeks.
A win would move the Tar Heels to 10-5 and into a tie with No. 17 Louisville for fourth place in the conference standings. The Cardinals defeated Georgia Tech, 52-51, on Monday night.
Louisville, which dismissed starting guard Chris Jones this weekend, closes its regular season with a trip to Florida State on Saturday followed by home games against No. 9 Notre Dame and No. 2 Virginia next week.
The Tar Heels wrap up their regular season slate with road games at Miami and Georgia Tech followed by the home finale against No. 4 Duke on March 7.
UNC split its series with Louisville this season. Head-to-head results serve as the first tiebreaker the ACC uses for seeding purposes, which means a tie in the standings between UNC and Louisville would be broken by the second tiebreaker, which is a comparison of the teams’ records against the top team in the ACC standings and, if necessary, descending in order until the tie is broken.
Both teams have already lost to ACC-leading Virginia (13-1), although the Cardinals have another chance at the KFC Yum! Center on March 7.
The Tar Heels are technically still in the running for the No. 2 seed in the ACC Tournament, but in order to finish ahead of Notre Dame (12-3), they would have to win out and have the Fighting Irish lose its final three games to Syracuse, Louisville and Clemson.
UNC could still end up with the No. 3 seed ahead of Duke, although the Tar Heels would likely have to win out and hope the Blue Devils drop two of their other three remaining games against Virginia Tech, Syracuse and Wake Forest. If UNC were to beat Duke and tie its rival in the standings, Duke would possess the tiebreaker due to its 69-63 win over Virginia.
If UNC loses to N.C. State, then the double-bye that comes with a Nos. 1-4 seed becomes a legitimate question mark. Not only would UNC be a full game behind Louisville for the fourth seed, but the Wolfpack would also pull within a game of the Tar Heels in the standings.
With a win over UNC, N.C. State would hold the tiebreaker over its rival due to its 87-75 win over Duke on Jan. 11.
Pittsburgh, which also holds a tiebreaker due its win over the Tar Heels on Feb. 14, would be within striking distance at 7-7 with a closing slate that includes Boston College, Wake Forest, Miami and Florida State. Miami (7-7) would also have a solid opportunity to challenge UNC in the standings with a home win on Saturday.
Syracuse, which is currently sixth in the ACC standings at 8-6, self-imposed a postseason ban earlier this month and will not participate in the conference tournament.
When asked about N.C. State needing a big win for its postseason hopes on Monday, UNC head coach Roy Williams responded, “We need wins, also.”
“I hear people talk about all of the time they’re playing with a purpose,” he continued. “By God, we better be playing with a purpose, too. They have a tremendous incentive to play; well, so do we. You could play terribly all year long and play five days and you’re in the [NCAA] Tournament. We’ve got to have the same want-to – you’ve heard that 100 times – or have a better want-to than they do.”
There are various scenarios that will play out and whittle down over the next 12 days. A win over the Wolfpack on Tuesday would go a long way in limiting how far the Tar Heels could fall in the ACC Tournament seedings while keeping them in solid position for the coveted double-bye.
“It’s one of the biggest games of the season for us,” junior wing J.P. Tokoto said. “That’s how we’ve been looking at every game. Georgia Tech, at the time, was the biggest game because it was the game in the present. We need every win we can get leading into the ACC Tournament.”
ACCT Seedings in Play
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