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5 Things North Carolina Basketball Must Do to Make the 2014 NCAA Tournament

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5 Things North Carolina Basketball Must Do to Make the 2014 NCAA Tournament

Roy Williams
Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

The North Carolina Tar Heels have been on the roller coaster that is the 2014 season. They began the year ranked as the preseason no. 11 team in the country and quickly plummeted out of the top 25 with unlikely losses to subpar opponents. Along that bumpy road though, they also knocked off the top three teams in the preseason poll. The year has definitely had its’ ups and downs and until lately, nothing about the Tar Heels has been consistent.

The NCAA tournament looked to be a distant thought when North Carolina began the ACC campaign with three straight losses. After two more conference games, the team sat at a meager 1-4 and any thought of the postseason seemed to be dead with the type of basketball the Tar Heels were playing, and the production they were getting from their experienced players. Now, having run off seven straight in the ACC, a brighter future lies ahead for the 2014 Tar Heels. The possibilities seem endless for a season which seemed to be over nearly before it began.

Roy Williams has taken a young group of players and empowered them, giving them confidence, drive and the desire to represent the history of one of college basketball’s most storied programs. The overwhelming response has seen them overcome adversity, play with more intensity and really create the atmosphere that was always synonymous with Carolina basketball.

Just a few week shy of selection Sunday and the question remains: can they keep it together and stay consistent long enough to make the dance? If they can make a few things happen, they’ll surely make the tournament and may make some noise once they've arrived there.

Bob Francis is a contributor for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @rfrancisjr, “Like” him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google

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5. Remain in Conference Top-4 Entering ACC Tournament

North Carolina
Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports

Continuing their consistent play and remaining in the top four in the conference is a feasible task for North Carolina, although they still meet Duke twice in the remaining weeks of the regular season. Entering the conference tournament as one of the teams to earn an automatic berth into the quarterfinals would go a long way to punching their ticket to the big dance. However, dropping any games to unlikely opponents along the way would most likely drop them in the standings and make their climb much more difficult.

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4. Avoid a Loss to a Weaker Opponent

North Carolina
Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Continuing to stay on top of the ACC standings will continue to build the Tar Heels nationally with three other teams ranked in the top-15 in the country. If they can hang with the others who have proven all year that they belong, they’ll surely earn their spot. It will mean taking care of all opponents along the way that they are projected to handle. A loss to any of the teams remaining on the schedule that are considered “weaker opponents” could mean the end of the storybook second-half run that Carolina has been on.

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3. Get Marcus Paige the Ball in Crunch Time

North Carolina
Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

The spotlight has been on no. 5 for some time now. He has stepped up each and every time they needed a big play and taken the team on his back. Now, with the season on the line, North Carolina will need to make sure that Marcus Paige has the ball. Whether shooting the three with the game on the line or taking fouls from the opposition and knocking down free throws, Paige will be the guy who can lead them to the promised land.

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2. Win 1 ACC Tournament Game

North Carolina
Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports

An early exit from the ACC tournament would be disastrous in building a case for North Carolina to make it into the tournament. A win would solidify them as viable contenders, even if they were to lose in the following matchup. Earning an automatic berth to the later rounds would obviously help this case, but a win would signify a top-tier conference finish and make them a must as a tournament selection.

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1. Beat Duke

North Carolina
Liz Condo-USA TODAY Sports

One of, if not the most storied rivalry in college basketball, North Carolina and Duke will meet twice before the 2014 ACC campaign comes to an end. Although Duke has looked the part for most of the season, the streaking Tar Heels could find the confidence and grit to pull out a victory. A split with the Blue Devils would boost their outlook from a national standpoint and put them in the discussion among teams that could surprise in the NCAA tournament. Stealing a victory would also mean that they would have beaten all four of the preseason polls' top teams, and that would most likely be enough for them to make it in.