With ACC play right around the corner, the North Carolina Tar Heels need to start gaining confidence and momentum. Tomorrow, they face off against Northern Kentucky, then finish their non-conference play against North Carolina-Wilmington on New Years Eve before heading to Wake Forest for their ACC opener. The team has struggled thus far to establish momentum against unranked teams, and if they allow these two teams to give them a run for their money, the Tar Heels will have little-to-no confidence as they approach the most important part of their schedule.
Northern Kentucky and UNC-Wilmington are teams that don’t even belong on the same court as the Tar Heels, with a combined record of 10-14 thus far in the young season. We already know that the Tar Heels can matchup with some of the best teams in the country, as seen with Louisville, Michigan State and Kentucky, but it is the mediocre teams that seem to give them the most difficulty.
The Tar Heels need to play these next two games like they are against top teams in the country, and cannot think otherwise at any point during the games. With three losses already, the team cannot afford to lose another game for a long time, especially to a team that they are supposed to beat. It is vital that the Tar Heels win their next four games, because after those games, they face a tough matchup on the road against Syracuse. After Northern Kentucky and UNC-Wilmington, they face Wake Forest and Miami, another two teams that they should defeat, but as seen in the past, anything can happen in ACC play.
In order for the Tar Heels to go into ACC play with confidence and momentum, they must blow out their next two opponents, and they should have no problem doing so. They should take these next two games to improve in aspects of their game that they have struggled with thus far. Chances are that James Michael McAdoo will not have much of a challenge down low, so he really needs to step up and have two big games. If he has confidence going into ACC play, then the entire team will follow with the same. Although he is yet to show it, he is this team’s backbone, and he must step up and play like it.
As for Marcus Paige, he has done everything and then some to help the Tar Heels win. The last thing the team needs is for him to slump against teams that he could put up huge numbers against. If J.P. Tokoto could also continue to shine in the backcourt, and Brice Johnson continues his stellar play in replace of the injured Joel James, then the team will have no problem in terms of momentum against ACC teams. Also, these next two games should give Leslie McDonald an opportunity to get more comfortable with his long-range shooting, which the team desperately needs.
In conference play, it is all about which team has the most momentum and confidence. Opposing arenas will be rocking when the Tar Heels step foot on the floor, and they need to be able to handle the pressure. If they expect to defeat Syracuse in a few weeks, and defeat Wake Forest and Miami to begin their ACC schedule, it all begins with blowouts in their final two non-conference games. Luckily for the Tar Heels, both these games will be played at the Dean E. Smith Center, so there is no excuse as to why they should not have the right amount of momentum to absolutely embarrass Norther Kentucky and UNC-Wilmington.