Need a sleeper for your bracket? How about a plucky upstart from Chapel Hill?
By beating Maryland in a ACC semifinal North Carolina continued its run as one of the hotter teams in the country, and has surprisingly done so with very little fanfare. A few weeks ago the buzz was that the Tar Heels and Kentucky could both miss the tournament. And that's still true for Kentucky. North Carolina isn't exactly an underdog going into the tournament, but the lack of buzz about their revival is a little surprising considering almost nothing UNC does in basketball flies under the radar.
North Carolina held off a late rally by Maryland to advance to the ACC championship game, winning 79-76. The Tar Heels controlled most of the game, playing pretty well yet again. P.J. Hairston, one of the keys to North Carolina's hot streak, needed eight stitches in his left hand after Friday's game, but played against Maryland and had 13 points. That's another good sign for UNC.
North Carolina has now won eight of nine games and with the much-ballyhooed and successful switch to the four-guard lineup, continues to look like a team that could make some noise in the NCAA tournament.
One reason they've stayed under the radar a bit is that their biggest game was a regular-season finale against Duke, and the Blue Devils started hot and won 69-53. Other than that, North Carolina has been on a roll.
Once in danger of being one of the season's biggest disappointments, the Tar Heels' margin of victory in their last eight wins has been 12.5 points. Saturday's semifinal was the only win of less than nine points in that stretch. Not only are the Tar Heels winning, they aren't having to squeak out any close wins. Going back to Jan. 12, North Carolina is 14-4 and 12 of the 14 wins have been by at least nine points. This is the Tar Heels team we're used to seeing.
If North Carolina can continue its good play and beats Miami for the ACC tournament title tomorrow, it's likely the Tar Heels will finally start to be a popular pick to make a run in the NCAA tournament the next few weeks.
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