North Carolina Basketball: UNC’s 5 Most Important Games Left

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Jan 26, 2015; Chapel Hill, NC, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels forward Kennedy Meeks (3) reacts as forward Brice Johnson (11) is in the background and Syracuse Orange forward Rakeem Christmas (25) and forward Tyler Roberson (21) look on in the second half. The Tar Heels defeated the Orange 93-83 at Dean E. Smith Center. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Funny how the waters a team must navigate throughout a college basketball season can change so quickly.

A week ago North Carolina was riding the wave of a six-game victory streak to rise near the top of the ACC standings. But as quickly as the tide seemed to carry the Tar Heels toward the front of the league race, it just as rapidly receded in the form of back-to-back, second-half meltdowns that now have lodged North Carolina into a bottleneck in its journey for a conference regular-season crown… or at least one of the four coveted double-bye slots for next month’s ACC Tournament.

Toss in the more-important seeding implications for the NCAA Tournament, and it isn’t difficult to discern that how the Tar Heels close out their regular-season campaign will have a large hand in how the cards are dealt for any hopeful postseason run.

Despite the pair of stomach-churning losses to Louisville and Virginia in a span of just over 48 hours, all is not lost. North Carolina (17-6 overall) still sits at 7-3 in league play, just a game-and-a-half behind the first-place Cavaliers. But they also are in the mix of five teams that are only two games are less behind the Virginia in the loss column.

The Tar Heels have to block out any thoughts on where they could have been sitting entering their last eight games. Yes, a share of first place appeared ripe for the picking entering last weekend before an 18-point lead at Louisville evaporated resulting in a 10-point overtime loss, and an outmuscled and outhustled North Carolina squad saw its slim one-point halftime advantage over the Cavaliers morph into an 11-point setback.

The pair of gut punchers have placed the Tar Heels in reeling mode, and, simply put, they have to finish strong. And while each of North Carolina’s remaining scheduled contests carries its own sense of urgency, some are, in fact, a little more heightened on the “importance” meter.

Momentum can be a prized possession entering the postseason, and if the Tar Heels want as much wind as possible pushing at their backs, here are five games that could have them sailing into tournament play.

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