March Madness: North Carolina's guide to surviving the ACC Tournament
North Carolina will play its first game of the ACC Tournament on Thursday evening.
The Tar Heels are the No. 3 seed and received a double-bye into the quarterfinal round. They will face either Virginia or Louisville in that game.
UNC has had an up-and-down season, but it is trending in the right direction. The Tar Heels have won 11 of their last 13 games, including five in a row.
They are no longer a bubble team after beating Duke on Saturday, but the Tar Heels could use a couple wins in Brooklyn to improve their NCAA Tournament seeding. North Carolina was an 8-seed in Joe Lunardi’s latest bracket projection.
Here’s five keys to North Carolina surviving — and advancing — in the ACC Tournament:
Keep the momentum going
North Carolina is coming off its best win of the season after beating Duke in Durham over the weekend. The Tar Heels spent the entire regular season looking for a signature win — now that they have one, they need to capitalize.
While Duke remains a heavy favorite, this ACC Tournament is wide open. UNC already proved it can beat the Blue Devils if it makes enough shots. North Carolina shot 39.1 percent from 3-point range in that win over Duke. Speaking of…
Let Brady Manek cook
Manek was a crucial part of UNC’s upset win at Duke over the weekend. He made 5 3-pointers and scored 20 points overall. His spacing and passing ability plays a pivotal role in North Carolina’s offense operating at a high level.
When Manek scores 10+ points this season, North Carolina is 18-4. That seems like a simple — albeit highly effective — recipe for UNC’s offense moving forward. He’s scored in double figures in every game since Jan. 26.
Keep Armando Bacot out of foul trouble
The biggest difference between UNC’s two meetings with Duke this season was Armando Bacot’s foul trouble. In the first game, Bacot started out defending Paolo Banchero and picked up a couple early fouls. His minutes were limited early on and UNC never found its footing in the game.
But in Durham, Bacot was more disciplined defensively. He picked up an early foul, but it never became an issue for him or the Tar Heels. He played every minute of the second half and led UNC with 23 points. Keeping him on the court — especially with UNC’s lack of depth — will be crucial for the Tar Heels to make a deep run.
Control the tempo
UNC will likely face Virginia and Notre Dame en route to a potential championship matchup. Virginia deploys an infamously patient offense, and Notre Dame isn’t much quicker — the Fighting Irish rank No. 261 nationally in adjusted pace, per KenPom.
North Carolina, meanwhile, plays at a much faster pace and will want to score in bunches. Figuring out a way to speed those games up and create more possessions will be important for UNC to make the championship game.
Tighten up defensively
North Carolina’s strength has always been on the offensive end this year, but it will need to tighten up a bit in March if it wants to advance. UNC’s defense ranks No. 80 nationally according to KenPom, which is fourth amongst ACC teams that are expected to make the NCAA Tournament.