The North Carolina Tar Heels are heading into the ACC tournament riding a 13-game winning streak, and they'll make it 14 with a win over Wake Forest tonight at 7:00 p.m. ET.
UNC's pitching is enough to make any team seriously doubt their chances. Their one-two punch at the top of the rotation puts the Demon Deacons top two pitchers to shame (and they have been pretty good this year).
No. 1 Kent Emanuel has compiled an 8-3 record thanks to an impressive 1.80 ERA. He's struck 90 batters out in just 95 innings pitched with a WHIP of just 1.05. The No. 2 starter, Benton Moss, has been almost as good as Emanuel, with an ERA of 2.13 over 67.2 innings pitched. His strikeout numbers are more impressive than Emanuel's, punching out 77 batters over the course of the season.
However, neither of those two will be starting against Wake Forest. Coach Mike Fox will turn the ball over to sophomore Shane Taylor, which shows you just how good the Tar Heels pitching staff is. This season, he boasts a 3.09 ERA and has won each of his five decisions. The depth of the UNC rotation allows Fox to start his No. 1 and No. 2 starters later in the tournament when they will be needed most.
The Demon Deacons are the No. 7 seed in the tournament and finished third-to-last in the ACC in batting with just a .264 team average. You can bet that their weakness at the dish will be magnified by the shut down Tar Heels pitching staff.
While UNC hasn't had a Murderer's Row-type season themselves, they've hit their stride at the perfect time. They just got Colin Moran back, their starting third baseman who slugged .384 this season despite missing 21 games thanks to a broken hand. Moran's return was much anticipated, and the Tar Heels have been clicking because of it. They've scored 49 runs in their last six games, with five of those contests coming against conference opponents.
Fox knows that the real test will come during the NCAA regionals, but he's just trying to keep his team focused on the ACC tournament. He revealed his philosophy on this week's tournament:
“We’re going to do everything we can to win this tournament,” Tar Heels coach Mike Fox said. “I think it’s a great honor to be ACC champions. We know there’s a bigger picture out there, we get all that, but we can’t host a regional until the regional gets here, so why wouldn’t we go to Greensboro and try to continue our good play.”
The two teams haven't met in almost two months, when UNC took two-of-three. Though, the Tar Heels are a much better team now than they were at the end of March. North Carolina should have no problem starting the ACC tournament on the right foot, as their premier pitching and recently-clicking offense gives them a huge advantage.