UNC Basketball: Tar Heels begin important second half of ACC schedule

CHAPEL HILL, NC - JANUARY 20: Head coach Roy Williams of the North Carolina Tar Heels yells to his team during their game against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at Dean Smith Center on January 20, 2018 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
CHAPEL HILL, NC - JANUARY 20: Head coach Roy Williams of the North Carolina Tar Heels yells to his team during their game against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at Dean Smith Center on January 20, 2018 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) /

The Tar Heels begin their final nine games of the ACC season and they are all very important moving forward

The second half of the Atlantic Coast Conference will be an important one for the North Carolina Tar Heels basketball team.

They enter the final nine games of the conference season at 5-4 and in seventh place. The Tar Heels have lost two-straight putting them in a bit of a hole here.

Coming off a National Championship in 2017, this team came out hot to start the season and had many believing they could return to the Final Four for a third-straight year.

But after last week, things have changed and some panic has started to set it.

These final nine games will be huge for the Tar Heels in terms of their season. It will make or break it as they head into postseason play.

The schedule

UNC’s final nine begins on the road at Clemson as they will take on the Tigers. Little John is not an easy place to win at and the Tar Heels will be without backup point guard Jalek Felton.

After the back-to-back losses, it’s safe to say there is a lot of pressure on these Tar Heels on Tuesday night.

Looking at these final nine games, there really are no gimmes.

The closest thing to that would be Saturday’s home game against Pitt. The Panthers are dead last in the conference, going 0-9 in the first half of the season.

It should be a UNC win.

But after this week, the schedule hits a big stretch.

The Tar Heels will host rival Duke on Feb. 8, with the Blue Devils likely entering the game in the Top 5 in the country. These rivalry games are almost always unpredictable, so anything could happen.

Following that, it will be a quick turnaround as UNC hits the road to take on NC State in Raleigh on Nov. 10. The Tar Heels have already lost once to the Wolfpack, so this will be another tough one.

UNC will play its third game in a span of five days when they return home to host Notre Dame on Feb. 12.

The Tar Heels beat the Fighting Irish on the road back in January but it took a comeback effort and free throws late in the game to win. Notre Dame was without both Bonzie Colson and Matt Farrell, but lost by just one point. Farrell will be back but Colson will miss another game.

That three-game stretch could very well determine the Tar Heels season. If they go 1-1 this week against Clemson and Pitt, the Tar Heels almost certainly have to go 2-1 in that three-game stretch.

A 2-0 week with wins over the Tigers and Panthers would be huge in getting momentum back on UNC’s side.

The final four games of the season will also be tough. UNC will be on the road for three of those games beginning with Feb. 17 at Louisville.

The Cardinals sit at 6-2 and are in second place in the ACC. Winning there is no easy task, either.

Four days later the Tar Heels will go to Syracuse to take on the Orange who are 4-4 in the ACC and will likely be fighting for their NCAA Tournament lives.

A home game against Miami, another team battling for a double-bye, is just ahead of the season finale at Duke.

That four game stretch could really determine the Tar Heels fate this season. Anything less than 2-2 could doom them.

Best-case scenario

As we mentioned before, these final nine games won’t be easy. The best-case scenario we see for UNC is they somehow go 7-2 and lock up a double-bye in the NCAA Tournament by finishing in the top four.

With five tough road games left, UNC would have to go at least 3-2 to reach the 7-2 mark and that’s with them winning the remaining home games.

Playing at Duke, Louisville, NC State, Clemson and Syracuse won’t be easy.

That 7-2 mark would also likely include a win over Duke. UNC would need to get wins over teams ahead of them ala NC State, Miami, Duke, Louisville and Clemson.

There are opportunities for that but they need to take advantage of those.

A double-bye and then a deep run in the ACC Tournament would help UNC’s seeding in the NCAA Tournament. A one seed is out of the question and a two seed would require UNC to run the table.

The most realistic case is a four-eight seed right now.

Worst-case scenario

The worst-case scenario is that the Tar Heels cant figure things out and finish the back nine of the schedule rough. We are talking a 2-7, 3-6 finish that would put them at the bottom half of the conference.

Those five road games left all could be losses if UNC doesn’t play well. They haven’t played well in any of their road conference games this season, going 1-3 on those games and could easily be 0-4.

Now, if this happens and it’s an early ACC Tournament exit, the Tar Heels could be in danger of missing the tournament.

Again this would be the worst-case scenario and a lot of bad would have to happen.

I’d say right now there is a low-risk of this happening but it’s not out of the question.

Bottom line

The bottom line is that UNC really has to come out hot in this second half.

Anything less than a 6-3 or 7-2 record in the final nine games would be disappointing. We’ve seen this team play well in games at Stanford, at Tennessee, vs. Ohio State and even at home vs. Clemson.

Next: UNC vs. Clemson preview

This team is going to have to respond to the adversity one way or the other. Let’s see how they handle it.