North Carolina had a brutal start to ACC play.
They lost four of their first five games, and they weren’t good losses, either. At Wake Forest. At home to Miami. Beatdowns at the hands Syracuse and Virginia. This was a team that beat all three of the nation’s preseason top three teams?
Well, the Tar Heels have bounced back.
They’ve now won four straight games after a 75-63 win against Maryland on Tuesday night, which moved the Heels up past .500 in the league standings for the first time this season. That’s good news, because Roy Williams’ club has apparently hit their stride at the perfect time.
Their next four games could end making their season. It starts with a trip to South Bend on Saturday to take on Notre Dame. Duke and Pitt will come to town next week, and UNC will follow that up with a trip to Florida State the week after. It will take a bit of a collapse for the Heels to miss the tournament at this point, but a good way to kick off a long losing streak is to have a bad stretch against good competition.
The key for UNC, at least according to their coach, appears to be as simple as maintaining their confidence.
“I think they are more confident [during this winning streak],” Williams told reporters last night. “I think they’ve bought in to the sense of urgency issue that we’ve been preaching all year long.”
Star guard Marcus Paige agreed.
“We’ve definitely hit our stride, our defensive intensity has increased, and it’s a lot different than it was the first couple of ACC games,” he said last night. “That’s what allowed us to be successful, so if we keep that up I think we’re going to reel off a couple more wins hopefully.”
That defensive intensity, which has actually become the strength of this UNC team, has carried over to the other side of the floor as well. Paige is averaging 18.5 points and 6.0 assists during this recent surge. James Michael McAdoo is averaging 16.8 points and 8.3 boards in these four games. In three of the last four, they’ve jumped out to big, early leads and never looked back.
UNC has their issues — they don’t shoot threes well and they are as bad as any team in the country from the foul line, which is why their offensive efficiency is as low as it is — but there certainly are talented players on the roster.
If they can put it all together, they can beat anyone in the country.
Just ask Michigan State.