UNC basketball advanced to the second round of the ACC Tournament with a win over Virginia Tech on Tuesday.
The stage is set as the 14th-seeded UNC basketball team will take on the sixth-seeded Syracuse Orange in the second round of the ACC Tournament. The winner will face third-seeded Louisville on Thursday night. Both teams are in fights for their postseason lives, and must win to keep their NCAA Tournament hopes alive. Carolina has won the ACC Tournament 18 times in the history of the program, good enough for second-most all-time behind Duke’s 21. It’ll take a miracle for them to make it a 19th this weekend, but despite being the bottom seed in the conference, they’re still playing on Day Two of the tournament.
The two teams faced off back in late February when the Tar Heels stole a victory on the road in the Carrier Dome.
When Syracuse and UNC met two weeks ago, it was Carolina that walked away with a 92-79 victory, in large part as a result of scoring 52 points in the second half. Despite the offensive explosion, the Heels did struggle the first half and will need to come out hot and stay hot if they want a chance to move on. Syracuse was miserable behind the three-point line in the first meeting, shooting just 25% from deep while Carolina had one of their better performances, shooting 42%.
To win this time, the Tar Heels will have to do the same three things they did in the first matchup. First off, they will need continuing dominance from the duo of Garrison Brooks and Cole Anthony. In the first game against the Orange, Brooks went for 26 points and 14 rebounds in 37 minutes of play, while Anthony dropped 25 points and seven assists to propel the Heels to the win. The pair has been playing extremely well together lately, and keeping that flame lit will be the biggest key tonight.
The second thing Carolina will need to do this time around is to continue winning the rebounding battle. In what has been an overall disappointing season, one of the few bright spots in the darkness has been UNC’s ability to rebound. Carolina outrebounded Syracuse 37-26 in the first matchup. The Tar Heels have been so good at getting boards this season that Roy Williams‘ bunch currently ranks fifth nationally in total rebounds and eighth in rebound margin.
The third and final key for UNC tonight is to simply close out the game. All too often this season Carolina has had wins in the palm of their hands only to give them away in the game’s closing minutes. Perhaps none of the collapses have hurt worse than the double-overtime loss against Duke, or the late-game meltdown against FSU in which they allowed the Seminoles to close the game on a 17-5 run. Slowing the tempo, but not turning over the ball and knocking down free throws will be key for Carolina to close out this one. You can watch the Heels take on the Orange tonight in Greensboro at 9 pm ET on ESPN2.