Don’t look now but the North Carolina Tar Heels are winners of 7 games in a row, playing their best ball of the season – so it’s a great time to be hosting their arch enemy Duke. As everyone knows, this is college basketball’s best rivalry but this game has much more meaning for Carolina than just beating their most hated foe.
All of a sudden this game has real meaning, as far as the ACC standings go. The #5 ranked Blue Devils are 10-3 in the conference and the red-hot Tar Heels are right behind them at 8-4 in the league. So a victory against Duke would not only be one for bragging rights but it would put the Tar Heels 1/2 game behind (tied in the loss column) the Blue Devils for third place in the ACC. This is important because finishing in the top 4 of the ACC gets you a first round bye come the conference tournament.
With the recent good stretch, UNC has solidified itself as an NCAA Tournament team, barring a late season collapse, but their seeding is an entirely different issue. In most of the latest “bracketology” projections, Carolina is seeded between 7 and 9. So another W against a top 5 team would look really good on the Tar Heels resume come selection Sunday. Speaking of having NCAA tournament implications, the outcome of this contest could help decide where UNC will play when they get to the big dance.
I’m sure that the Carolina faithful has all but given up on the possibility of playing tournament games in Raleigh, which is a host site for second and third round games. Although it’s still a bit of a longshot, if the Tar Heels beat Duke, finish the regular season strong and make the finals or win the ACC tournament – they could still be seeded high enough to play in Raleigh. A victory Thursday night could give the team the confidence to do just that.
This is one of those measuring stick type of games for Carolina. If they’re able to protect the home court and send Duke back to Durham with an L, the message will be loud and clear: UNC Basketball is a real threat and they will have to be dealt with.