UNC Basketball: The “Must Win” games for the Tar Heels down the stretch

CHAPEL HILL, NORTH CAROLINA - JANUARY 02: Head coach Roy Williams of the North Carolina Tar Heels speaks with Garrison Brooks #15 during the first half of their game against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Dean Smith Center on January 02, 2021 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
CHAPEL HILL, NORTH CAROLINA - JANUARY 02: Head coach Roy Williams of the North Carolina Tar Heels speaks with Garrison Brooks #15 during the first half of their game against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Dean Smith Center on January 02, 2021 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images) /

What games do the UNC basketball program need to win in the final month of the season to secure a bid into this year’s NCAA tournament?

The UNC basketball program got off to a bit of a streaky start to begin the 2020-2021 season.

After winning their first three contests, the Tar Heels dropped their next two games against ranked opponents (Texas and Iowa). Roy Williams’ team followed up the two-game losing streak by picking up two victories before dropping their first two ACC contests against N.C. State and Georgia Tech.

Even with a roster that featured a bunch of new, inexperienced players, the 5-4 start to the season was not what the Tar Heels had in mind. However, since then, Williams’ team has been playing much better basketball.

Since the start of the new year, the Tar Heels have won six of their seven contests. They currently hold an 11-5 overall record, and are 6-3 in conference play. Their record in ACC play puts them in fourth in the division, 1.5 games back of Virginia for first place.

Now, the focus turns to the final month of the season.

The Tar Heels have ten more ACC games to play, and there’s a lot on the line for Roy Williams’ squad. Not only are they battling to compete for the ACC regular-season title, but they are also trying to earn their spot in this year’s NCAA tournament.

Currently, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi views the Tar Heels as a No. 10 seed in this year’s tournament. This is all subject to change, as the final month of the season will have a lot to say about the final seedings for this year’s bracket.

It’s rather simple: the Tar Heels can control their own destiny. As they make a push towards March Madness, we’re going to take a look at the teams final stretch of games. Which games are crucial for the Tar Heels to win down the stretch?

Let’s dig into it.

The Rest of the Regular Season Schedule

Of course, we know that this season is the year of the unexpected. Although it’s possible that we could see some changes to this, here’s how the Tar Heels remaining schedule looks as of this given moment.

February 2- at Clemson (10-5)
February 6- at Duke (7-5)
February 8- vs. Miami (6-10)
February 13- @ Virginia (11-3)
February 16- vs. Virginia Tech (13-3)
February 20- vs. Louisville (10-4)
February 23- @ Boston College (3-10)
February 27- vs. Florida State (10-3)
March 1- @ Syracuse (9-5)
March 6- vs. Duke

Looking at the final slate of games, the Tar Heels schedule isn’t an easy one. As of Sunday, the remaining Tar Heel opponents have a combined 79-48 record this season. This record is good for a .622 winning percentage.

If the Tar Heels get to play all of their games this season (fingers crossed), they will have 26 games under their belt. Of course, the ACC Tournament could either help or hurt the Tar Heels, but for now, let’s focus on just the regular-season slate.

The Tar Heels currently have 11 regular-season victories. How many regular season wins is good enough to comfortably get them into the tournament?

Of course, we’d all love to see the Tar Heels take home 10 more wins to extend their current win streak to 13 games. However, most teams in the country will lose again at least once.

Not trying to be pessimistic, but it is overly optimistic to think that any college basketball team will not lose again during the regular season.

The Tar Heels need to prove that they belong in the pack, and seven wins would most likely be enough to secure them a bid in this year’s tournament.

Is 7-3 over the last 10 games asking too much? To be quite honest, it is doable if the Tar Heels play at the level they’re capable of.

Before we get into the breakdown, we want to note that we definitely aren’t taking any of the Tar Heels’ upcoming opponents lightly. As we breakdown the scenarios for the Tar Heels, we are searching for the most ideal situation for Williams’ team to get into this year’s tournament.

There’s never any “guaranteed wins” in sports, especially in the college basketball world. However, you’d expect Williams and the Tar Heels to beat both Miami and Syracuse once again. Both games were close the first time around, but this is also a much-improved Tar Heel team since those previous two meetings. You’d also expect North Carolina to take care of Boston College, who has mightily struggled so far this season.

That could be three victories right there.

If North Carolina takes care of those opponents, they need to rack up four more wins from their remaining schedule: Clemson, Duke (twice), Virginia, Virginia Tech, Louisville and Florida State.

Let’s start with Clemson: this week’s matchup may be perfect timing for the Tar Heels.

Why? Well, for starters, the Tigers have lost four of the last five contest, including a blowout loss to Duke this past week. With a week off, the Tar Heels have had ample time to prepare for their trip to South Carolina.

After the Clemson matchup, Carolina braces itself for their first matchup with rival Duke. Yes, Duke has struggled a bit this year, but we all know how this rivalry works- you can never predict what could happen! For the Tar Heels, they at least have to split the season series, especially given that the final matchup (on the last day of the regular season) is in Chapel Hill.

A season split with Duke plus wins against the other four opponents already discussed would give North Carolina five wins. That leaves us with four more games to discuss.

The stretch from February 13-February 27 will likely dictate the Tar Heels fate. Over the span of five games, North Carolina will play four teams who are currently ranked in the Top-25.

Simply put, it won’t be an easy stretch by any means.

However, home court advantage could play a huge factor in these games. Of the four ranked opponents left on the schedule, three are scheduled to come to Chapel Hill (only Virginia is a road game for the Tar Heels).

Why is this important?

Well, the Tar Heels are a much better team on their home court. So far this season, North Carolina is 6-0 in the Dean Smith Center. To put things into perspective, the Tar Heels are 2-4 when playing on their opponent’s home turf.

If the Tar Heels can capture two victories in their three upcoming games against ranked opponents, that would put them at our seven-win plateau.

One of the ranked contests to “circle on the calendar” is Florida State on February 27. After beating the Tar Heels earlier in the season, the Seminoles will make the trip to Chapel Hill for round two, which could serve as a “revenge game” for North Carolina.

Of course, we’d love to see them win all four games against ranked opponents (as it would definitely help strengthen the team’s resume), but we’ll definitely be content if they can pull off at least two victories.

This is a lot to digest, so let’s recap:

In order to meet our 7-3 record over the final 10 game stretch to end the regular season, here’s how we figure the Tar Heels can meet that mark:

The “Should Be” Wins:

Boston College

Need at least a split (a sweep would be fantastic):


Pull off at least two victories during the “tough stretch”:

Virginia Tech
Florida State

A handful of different scenarios can play out here. The Tar Heels have to simply take advantage of the games they should win, but also compete at a high level in the games in which they are playing tougher opponents.

If they want to prove they belong in this year’s NCAA tournament field, the Tar Heels will have to make some noise over the last month of the regular season.

The ball is officially in their court.

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