CHAPEL HILL – The 60th ACC men’s basketball tournament tips off Thursday night in Greensboro and for the third time since 2010, North Carolina gets to take day one off.
The Tar Heels finished the season 22-9, 12-6 in the first 18-game conference schedule and in third place. That seeding is good enough for a bye for UNC into Friday evening’s 9:30 p.m. tipoff.
Carolina is coming off a 69-53 loss to rival Duke on Senior Night in the Dean Smith Center. The first time the Tar Heels and Blue Devils met, UNC followed that loss with a 6-1 run to the season finale. Head Coach Roy Williams says the team’s in a different situation now.
“This time we don’t have too many positive things coming out of the Duke game,” Coach Williams says. “I think that we understand the mistakes that we made Saturday night. I think now we have more knowledge and more experience to hopefully change those things quickly.”
As a three seed, North Carolina will face either six-seed Florida State or 11-seed Clemson. UNC swept Florida State and beat Clemson in their one meeting this season.
Coach Williams says neither team is to be taken lightly, and Thursday night’s game—while it may lean in one direction—is not yet decided.
“Florida State’s really played well down the stretch,” Coach Williams says. “They won their last two games; both of them were at home. They won the last two games to get the six seed, and they’re playing well. It doesn’t make any difference, they’ve got to play well Thursday night against a good Clemson team as well.”
Clemson head coach Brad Brownell says the matchup is difficult. The Tigers were swept by the Seminoles this season, but the second of those contests was close with Clemson was just four points from pulling the upset in Tallahassee.
“They seem to be playing really good basketball right now having won three of their last four,” Coach Brownell says. “Obviously two really good home wins here in the last week against two good NCAA tournament teams in Virginia and NC State. We know we have our hands full. We’ve had two really competitive games with those guys during the regular season.”
Florida State head coach Leonard Hamilton is coming off a tournament championship and ACC Coach of the Year honor last year. However, the ever-optimistic coach says this season has been an uphill climb.
“Our team seems to be growing up a little,” Coach Hamilton says. “We haven’t played outstanding basketball, but I do think that we’ve shown some improvement here late in the season just with young guys learning the intensity we have to play with, the focus, the importance of execution, every time down we’re rebounding better. By no means do I feel that we’ve arrived.”
Florida State and Clemson will not make it to the 68-team NCAA field without an ACC tournament championship. However, North Carolina is projected as a seven seed by bracketologist Joe Lunardi along with four other ACC members that are expected to dance.
While many coaches—including Williams—feel that the regular season championship should be the deciding factor for an automatic bid, it comes down to the conference tournament for those conferences that have them.
Coach Williams says in all but one season, he’s looked at the tournament as a sort of warm up to a more important performance.
“I do still want to win the daggum thing,” Coach Williams says. “I think you can help yourself for the next tournament, and we’ve always been interested in that too. The only year that I really say that I looked at the ACC tournament differently is in 2010. I thought we had to win the daggum thing to keep playing.”
That season, North Carolina was knocked out of the first round of the ACC tournament by Georgia Tech and went on to the NIT where the Tar Heels fell to the Dayton Flyers in the championship game.
Tournament action tips off Thursday at 12:00 noon in the Greensboro Coliseum. You can hear all 11 games of the tournament on WCHL beginning with pregame coverage at 11:00 a.m. Thursday.