North Carolina Basketball: Tar Heels' Blueprint to Climbing the ACC Standings
Where North Carolina basketball will finish in the ACC standings doesn't rest solely on the players and coaches of the Tar Heels. Sitting four games behind Miami—and losing both head-to-head matches—there is no shot for UNC to earn its third straight regular-season title.
But the Tar Heels do have a shot to take Duke's No. 2 spot, and they could control their own destiny when the two meet again to close out the ACC season.
That could mean a lot to this team that was all but counted out after starting conference play at 0-2. The NIT chants rained down, and conference foes pounced on the opportunity label this team a joke.
The only chuckles we're hearing these days is coming from the Carolina fans that continued to believe the team would pull through.
Carolina's ship never sank. The players and coaches continued to bail water until they found the hole. Then Roy Williams stuffed it with a 6'6", 220-pound guard/forward named P.J. Hairston.
The Tar Heels are alive again. And though they don't have a shot to raise another regular-season banner in the rafters, they could still raise one to honor a 2013 ACC tournament title.
Topping Duke for the No. 2 seed would be nice, but finishing in the top four will at least earn the team a bye in the first round. The following is a blueprint for how North Carolina can get it done.
Obstacle 1: Maryland Terrapins
As of today, the Maryland Terrapins sit two games behind the Tar Heels at 7-7. It won't be easy for Maryland to jump UNC in just four games, but it's very possible.
In order, the Terps will face Georgia Tech, Wake Forest, North Carolina and Virginia to finish out their season. The two final games are the most important on that list for UNC.
The Tar Heels will have to travel to Maryland, where the Terps are 6-2 in conference play.
If UNC loses that game, the teams would be tied in their head-to-head games. And if UNC goes 2-2 while Maryland goes 4-0, the tiebreaker would start with their records against Miami and then work down.
To keep the confusion to a minimum, this is how a tie between Maryland and North Carolina would break down:
Miami: UNC (0-2), UM (0,1)
Duke: UNC (0-1), UM (1-1)
Tie if UNC beats Duke
UM if UNC loses to Duke
Virginia: UNC (1-1), UM (0-1)
Tie if UM beats UVA
UNC if UM loses to Duke
NC State: UNC (1-1), UM (1-0)
UM with a better winning percentage
Obstacle 2: NC State Wolfpack
NC State is one game behind UNC, and the two are 1-1 against each other this season. This could pose a problem for the Tar Heels when putting the ease of NC State's remaining schedule into consideration.
In order, NC State will battle with Boston College, Georgia Tech, Wake Forest and Florida State. None of those teams currently rank higher than seventh in the ACC.
On the flip side, UNC will face Clemson, Florida State, Maryland and Duke.
Here is how a tie would break down between these rivals:
Miami: UNC (0-2), NCST (0-1)
Duke: UNC (0-1), NCST (1-1)
Tie if UNC beats Duke
NCST if UNC loses to Duke
Virginia: UNC (1-1), NCST (0-1)
UNC with a better winning percentage
Maryland: UNC (1-0), NCST (0-1)
UNC with win or loss against MD
Obstacle 3: Virginia Cavaliers
North Carolina and NC State are currently tied with a 9-5 conference record. They are also tied 1-1 in head-to-head matchups this season.
This is going to be a close race, and the two programs have a very similar remaining schedule. Virginia will have to fight off Duke, Boston College, Florida State and Maryland. That's three of the four teams Carolina will face.
Here is how this tie would break down:
Miami: UNC (0-2), UVA (0-1)
Duke: UNC (0-1), UVA (0-0)
Tie if UNC and UVA lose to Duke
UNC if it beats Duke and UVA loses to Duke
UVA if it beats Duke
NC State: UNC (1-1), UVA (1-0)
Maryland: UNC (1-0), UVA (1-0)
Tie if they both lose or win
UNC if it beats MD and UVA loses to MD
UVA if it beats MD and UVA loses to MD
Obstacle 4: Duke Blue Devils
Duke is currently two games ahead of North Carolina with an 11-3 record. Duke won the first game at Cameron Indoor, but it will have to face UNC in the Dean Dome this time around.
While UNC has a tough remaining schedule, Duke's is even more challenging. The Blue Devils will face Virginia, Miami, Virginia Tech and North Carolina. That's all three of the other top-four teams in the conference.
It could very well come down to the final game of the season for these two, as it did last year for the regular-season title. Even when these programs aren't battling for the top spot, there always seems to be something on the line other than bragging rights in the final game.
Now they could possibly battle for the No. 2 seed in the ACC tourney.
This is how a tie would break down between Duke and North Carolina:
Miami: UNC (0-2), Duke (0-1)
Tie if Duke loses to Miami
Duke if it beats Miami
Virginia: UNC (1-1), Duke (0-0)
Duke if it beats UVA
UNC if Duke loses to UVA
NC State: UNC (1-1), Duke (1-1)
Maryland: UNC (1-0), Duke (1-1)
Tie if UNC loses to MD
UNC if it beats MD
As you can see, working up to the No. 2 seed will not be an easy task for North Carolina. But at least getting in the top four will have its benefits with a bye and—possibly—easier opponents.
The latter doesn't always work out that way, though.
And at the risk of mass confusion, there are some scenarios I still didn't cover. With four games left, there are a variety ways this ACC season could play out.
Just take a look at the ACC tournament seeding procedures for all the ways ties can be broken. It gets pretty messy.
No matter where North Carolina ends up in the standings, this team has proven it has the parts to come out of the ACC tourney with a title. But there is no doubt making a strong run in these final four games will have a huge impact on its chances of cutting down the nets.
Confidence, momentum and seeding could make all the difference for the Tar Heels.