North Carolina is back at No. 1, but coach Roy Williams knows that doesn’t mean much at this point in the season.
The top-ranked Tar Heels play their final home game on Tuesday when they face Florida State.
North Carolina (27-2, 12-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) moved back into the top spot in the poll after Tennessee, which started last week at No. 1, lost to Vanderbilt on Tuesday. The Tar Heels were ranked No. 1 in preseason and for the first 10 polls of the regular season before falling 82-80 to Maryland on Jan. 19.
North Carolina has won six straight since its second loss, 89-78 at home to Duke. The Tar Heels, who are tied with the sixth-ranked Blue Devils atop the ACC standings, wrap up the regular season in Durham on Saturday.
“I like it better later in the year,” coach Roy Williams said of the top ranking, “because it shows you have accomplished something.”
Still, Williams believes his team has improved since its last stint at No. 1. The Tar Heels managed to return to the top spot despite being without point guard Ty Lawson for six games because of a sprained left ankle.
“We have gotten better defensively and have had to withstand some adversity,” Williams said. “We had a player who went through four years of adversity step up at the point in Quentin Thomas. …
“If we can get Ty back completely healthy, our team is stronger because guys who were forced in because of the injuries have stepped up. I’m proud of the toughness of our team.”
Lawson returned and had four points in 21 minutes off the bench in Saturday’s 90-80 win over Boston College. Tyler Hansbrough, who leads the ACC with 23.4 points and 10.4 rebounds per game, had 25 points and nine, respectively, in helping the Tar Heels rally from an 18-point deficit.
Wayne Ellington had 18 of his 20 points in the second half, and Danny Green scored 18 for North Carolina, which overcame 46 points by Tyrese Rice.
Lawson injured his ankle in the last meeting with Florida State (17-12, 6-8), an 84-73 overtime win in Tallahassee on Feb. 3. Seminoles forward Ryan Reid sank the only 3-point attempt of his career with 8.1 seconds left to send the game into overtime, but Hansbrough finished with 22 points and a career-high 21 rebounds.
The Tar Heels have won seven straight against the Seminoles since a 90-81 overtime defeat on the road on Jan. 22, 2004. They have won six straight home games in the series since a 76-71 loss on Jan. 22, 2000.
Florida State has won three straight, including Wednesday’s 72-62 victory at North Carolina State. Jason Rich scored 21 points and Toney Douglas, who leads the team with 15.9 points per game, chipped in 20.
The Seminoles’ winning streak comes after they dropped eight of 10 games. They have not won four straight ACC games since 1992-93.
“You want to be playing your best basketball in February,” Rich said. “Right now we’re just trying to play good basketball and aren’t concerning ourselves with our goals at the start of the season. I know it sounds cliche-ish, but that’s why we’ve been able to put three together. We’re not looking ahead to the next opponent, but just looking at the game at hand.”