After three high-profile victories and a pair of head-scratching defeats during non-conference play, North Carolina coach Roy Williams hopes his team is ready for the ACC season to begin.
That journey begins Sunday night when the visiting No. 19 Tar Heels look for a fifth consecutive victory over Wake Forest.
North Carolina (10-3) played like one of the nation's elite teams while beating then-No. 3 Louisville, then-No. 1 Michigan State on the road and preseason No. 1 Kentucky. However, the Tar Heels looked less than mediocre during losses to Belmont at home and UAB on the road.
"I think this team understands that we've got to play better every day and work harder, and I think they're doing that," Williams said. "... No coach is ever going to say that they're satisfied with where they stand unless you're 13-0 and beating everybody by a million."
North Carolina, averaging 80.1 points, shot 52.3 percent while beating UNC-Wilmington 84-51 on Tuesday for its third straight victory since losing 86-83 at home to Texas on Dec. 18.
Following a 97-85 overtime win over Davidson on Dec. 21, the Tar Heels have held Northern Kentucky and Wilmington to a combined 111 points on 32.3 percent shooting.
"The biggest thing that I have been displeased with is the consistency of our attention and, sometimes, our effort," Williams said. "But I've got hope. I've got hope that we can be good defensively."
Marcus Paige (18.4 points per game) and James Michael McAdoo (14.7 ppg) are poised to help the Tar Heels make a run at their third regular-season league title in four years, even with No. 2 Syracuse and previously ranked Notre Dame now in the ACC along with No. 7 Duke.
"Just the feeling of conference play and the excitement that comes with it," said McAdoo, who had 23 points and 10 rebounds in 23 minutes Tuesday. "We're confident. We're ready for this.
"Marcus and I realize what it's going to take and it starts Sunday."
North Carolina has won eight of 10 versus Wake Forest (10-3), including the last four by an average margin of 15.7 points. McAdoo had 20 points in an 87-62 home win in the schools' only meeting last season.
Though the Tar Heels shot a combined 35.3 percent in their last two visits to Winston-Salem, they held the Demon Deacons to 29.7 percent and won both.
However, North Carolina can't afford to take anything for granted against a Wake Forest squad that's 9-0 at home, where the Deacons are holding opponents to 37.5 percent shooting on the season and 58.0 points in the last five games.
Wake takes the floor for the first time since its four-game winning streak ended last Saturday, getting held to season lows for points and field-goal percentage (35.8) in a 68-53 defeat at Xavier.
Codi Miller-McIntyre was held to 11 points for the second straight game, six off his team-leading average. Devin Thomas scores 11.5 per game and averages 9.3 rebounds to rank among the ACC leaders.
The Deacons are 0-3 when Thomas has grabbed fewer than six boards, and he's totaled just 20 points in those games. He had 13 rebounds and 11 points at North Carolina last season.
Wake Forest, which lost 87-78 to then-No. 2 Kansas at the Battle 4 Atlantis on Nov. 28, went 2-1 at home against ranked opponents in 2012-13.