Tomorrow at 4:00 PM, the Tar Heels continue their stretch of “must win” games that they have the unfortunate task of getting through in order to cement their place into the NCAA Tournament next month. The opponent that’s next on the docket? None other than NC State. We all remember what took place on that Saturday evening not even a month ago, when the Tar Heels marched into Raleigh, NC and played a Wolfpack team that had a major chip on their shoulder which was formed from the pain and misery of 13 straight losses. That all seems like a distant memory. That Saturday evening, North Carolina was handed a plate of long overdue revenge and tomorrow, they’ll have a chance to answer the call.
If we are looking at the big picture, 13 wins out of the last 14 meetings between the two schools still illustrates an overwhelming sense of superiority in favor of UNC. Unfortunately, in the world we live in, the past isn’t nearly as important as the present. Not only did NC State win the last matchup, they humiliated North Carolina by exposing every single weakness they possessed. They took advantage of mismatches in the post, slack perimeter defense, and the pure lack of hustle resulting in a deficit that was just shy of thirty.
It was pretty clear that during that game, UNC was overwhelmed. The superior talent level of the opponent, the hostile environment from the fans, and the unbelievable pressure of extending a streak got to the young Tar Heel squad. However, there is one thing I look at when it’s all said and done and that’s the final score. That thirty point lead that NC State ran up on the board only amounted to a mere eight when the final buzzer sounded and was as close as four in the final minute. This is a clear cut sign that NC State is incapable of running at a fast pace with just 7 players for a game’s entirety. This is just the advantage that the Tar Heels need to capitalize on.
Regardless of what NC State fans think or not, the game tomorrow will be much different. The Tar Heels have a new lineup that’s not only faster and more offensively efficient, but that’s also built to play a ton of minutes. No longer are they confined to the offensive restrictions that Desmond Hubert had as a starter for the Tar Heels nor will they have a post player logging major minutes that will slow down in crunch time. With sharpshooter PJ Hairston in the fold, Carolina becomes quicker, has more endurance and can now spread the floor with their three point shooting ability. If you remember the game in Raleigh, PJ went off towards the end of the game and made clutch three after clutch three keeping Carolina in it. With him getting a lot more minutes, NC State will be forced to score quickly and keep the pace up for the full forty minutes in order to get the win.
The Wolfpack are a much better team at home then they are on the road. The crowd, which caused so many issues for UNC for the majority of their first matchup, won’t be there this time. This time, the crowd will be angry and energized to make sure that State is as uncomfortable as possible. If the Tar Heels can execute their gameplan and the Pack finds themselves behind in the waning minutes, they’ll undoubtedly find that Chapel Hill will be an unforgiving environment. It’s no secret that it’s much harder to come from behind to win outside of your own building and NC State should be fully prepared to fight a ton of crowd noise.
I really feel confident that the Tar Heels can play their game and take care of business again tomorrow afternoon. By doing so, they’ll be able to not only get one win closer to twenty, but also gain ground in the conference and pick up a win against a team ranked ahead of them in the RPI. Outside of the obvious, if there is one reason that North Carolina should win this game, it’s purely because it would feel great for a young team to stick it to their rival in a year that they’re supposed to sweep through you. NC State is going to win every now and then unfortunately, but the Tar Heels need to be on a mission to make sure that their glory is taken from them just as quickly as they obtained it.