The Carolina-State rivalry game just got interesting again.
North Carolina’s struggles on the court are going to be brought front and center and magnified in a primetime Saturday night matchup against North Carolina State on Jan. 26.
The two in-state rivals have played a plethora of times since the inception of basketball at their institutions. The Tar Heels have dominated their series overall, winning 57 of the 76 games played between the two since 1979-80.
That includes victories in each of their past 13 matchups against their close by neighbors.
The Wolfpack haven't beaten the Tar Heels since Feb. 2007.
This isn't the North Carolina we’re used to, though. Don’t let a couple of ACC victories let you think otherwise.
Sure, the Tar Heels can score points and have the young talent they always do. But that hasn’t translated to success against tough competition this season.
Their struggles, and they have plenty, will be brought to center stage and exposed even more by a very underrated N.C. State team.
Everyone knew this year was going to be a challenge for the Tar Heels and a resurgence for the Wolfpack, and the preseason pundits ended up being right.
N.C. State has had its share of struggles, dropping two recent ACC games to Maryland and Wake Forest by a total of three points. Those letdowns came in two of the team’s past three games after upsetting unbeaten No. 1 Duke.
They are far from perfect too.
But a loss for North Carolina on the road is still likely. It doesn’t necessarily mean their season is over. There is still plenty of basketball left to be played. If they can keep playing steady, they can ensure their spot in the NCAA Tournament.
Can this year's Tar Heels compete in March?
From there, anything can happen.
The Tar Heels may be able to gel and get things fixed before the tournament, but it doesn’t look that way right now. There is too much youth and inexperience on the roster and the team will be clawing its way out of a lower seed in an attempt to reach the Final Four.
Last year’s Tar Heels team was much better together and couldn’t pull it off.
Losing this game, above all else, will signal the end of hope at Chapel Hill for this season if there was any still left. There’s a changing of the guard in the state of North Carolina, at least for this season, and it’s going to be very clear after Jan. 26.