After beginning ACC play with losses to Wake Forest and Miami, the North Carolina Tar Heels clearly have their backs against the wall in the ACC. Tomorrow, they have one of their toughest tests of the season when they take on No. 2 Syracuse on the road. This is not the game that the Tar Heels wanted to have as a bounce back game, but they have put themselves in this position and it is without a doubt a must win.
Syracuse is unbeaten this season, and may be one of the favorites to not only win the ACC, but to win the national championship. It has all of the weapons a head coach could dream of having, along with one of the greatest head coaches in college basketball with Jim Boeheim. The Orange are led by senior forward C.J. Fair with 17 points per game, and also have a pretty outstanding supporting cast with Trevor Cooney, Jerami Grant and Tyler Ennis.
On paper, the Tar Heels do not stand a chance against Syracuse, but the same was also said before they faced Louisville, Michigan State and Kentucky, all of whom they defeated. For some reason, the Tar Heels always seem to play better against the top teams in the country, then completely collapse against mediocre teams. Right now, the Tar Heels are a mediocre team, and it is essential that they wake up once again against a ranked team.
James Michael McAdoo is coming off a quiet double-double against Miami, and he will most likely be in charge of neutralizing Fair in the frontcourt. Marcus Paige has struggled in the team’s last few games, and if the team plans on waking up he will need to be the first one to do so. Having Joel James back in the lineup is vital to the team, but it is still going to take him a few games to get back into the swing of things. He only had four points in eight minutes in the Miami game, and the team hopes that he can be more of a factor against Syracuse.
The key to this game for the Tar Heels is to make as few turnovers as humanly possible, and hopefully the rest of their game will flourish as a result. Even one stupid mistake could cost them the game, because Syracuse is too good of a team and will take advantage of the first momentum swing in their direction. Once Syracuse gets going, there are few things the Tar Heels can do to stop it. After all, Syracuse is unbeaten this season, and it does not expect its first loss to come to a mediocre Tar Heel squad. If the Tar Heels start making stupid mistakes, then Syracuse’s expectations will become reality and it will win the game with ease.
All Tar Heel fans can hope for is for the team to play against Syracuse like they have against all ranked teams thus far in the season. Everyone is already counting North Carolina out, but it would not be a surprise to me if it wakes up and wins the game. It certainly won’t be easy, but it is the furthest thing from impossible. If the Tar Heels hope to be successful in the ACC moving forward, it starts with an upset over the undefeated Syracuse Orange at noon ET tomorrow.