In the heart of its ACC schedule and in the throes of a battle to build a résumé worthy of an at-large NCAA Tournament bid, North Carolina on Monday morning sent out a tweet that reeked of desperation.
“We’re looking for a home game this week (February 16-18),” the team’s account announced. “Please contact us if interested.”
Yes, North Carolina, the team with the most Final Four appearances in all of Division I and with the third-most NCAA championships, really wanted teams to slide in the DMs for some action.
That’s because UNC has been smacked by COVID-related postponements. So on the heels of its Feb. 16 home tilt against Virginia Tech getting postponed over the weekend because of pandemic problems within the Hokies program, it sent out a call to the college hoops community to try and fill a hole in the schedule in the final hour.
“We’re just seeing what is out there,” UNC coach Roy Williams said Monday about the tweet in the weekly ACC coaches conference call. “We’ve lost three home games and don’t necessarily see that there’s going to be much of an opportunity to get those games back. They’re all three home conference games, so we would like to see if something will fit.”
Nine hours and 19 minutes later, UNC found something that would fit on a tight schedule, revealing — where else? — on Twitter that it will play Northeastern on Wednesday in Chapel Hill. It got a home game after all, against a Huskies team that’s 9-7 overall and second in the standings in the Colonial. It got one because it got desperate.
UNC was backed into a corner
A home game for North Carolina against Clemson on Jan. 9 was postponed. So, too, was its home bout against Miami on Feb. 8. The Hokies-Tar Heels bout for Feb. 16 also met the same fate.
Not only has UNC lost critical ACC games along the course of the season, which typically provide quality opportunities to build out the résumé. But it has disproportionately lost home games.
“We’ve played six home games,” Williams said Monday. “It’s not a good situation. We’re just trying to see if we can find some more games to play here.”
For reference here: ACC leader Virginia has played nine home games. Across the state, Duke and NC State have each played 10.
It’s not as if North Carolina had a ton of options here, nor did it have the luxury to be selective, as bluebloods typically have. It clearly wanted a stronger opponent to make up for lost chances against ACC foes. But given time constraints working on a tight window and desperate to find someone willing to accommodate a specific set of needs, it made the best of a tricky situation.
Last-minute Miami postponement looms
Because of the pandemic, it’s not uncommon for teams this time of year to be on pause for days on end, forcing games to be postponed, rescheduled or outright canceled. But of the three home games for UNC that have been postponed, one — scheduled for Feb. 8 against Miami — looms large over its desperate attempt to bulk its schedule.
That game was postponed just hours before tip after video surfaced of UNC players partying maskless following their weekend win over Duke on Saturday, Feb. 6. Miami had already made the trek to Chapel Hill, but scooted back home without playing the game because it wasn’t comfortable with the proposition of facing UNC players who 48 hours prior had been partying and not adhering to strict social distancing guidelines.
“This [the Virginia Tech game] is our third cancellation,” said Williams. “One of them we were the major factor in, so we can’t say much about anything.”
At 12-7 on the season (and 7-5 in ACC play), North Carolina is in an unusual spot as a bubble team. Jerry Palm on Monday listed the Tar Heels as one of the first four teams out of the 68-team field. That’s the subtext to this last-minute attempt to cobble together a matchup with a team that was willing to meet within such a small window in a road venue. UNC needs games, and it also needs wins.
The trouble is that this game doesn’t do UNC a ton of favors.
Its dossier to this point isn’t lacking for opportunities; it’s lacking because it hasn’t been great in the opportunities it has been given. UNC is 1-6 in Quadrant 1 opportunities in the NET, and 5-1 in Quadrant 2 games. It is 4-0 in Quad 3 and 2-0 in Quad 4.
A home game against Northeastern qualifies, for now, as a Quadrant 3 game. Truth be told, it’s a game that will marginally help UNC’s overall résumé if it wins but hurt it if it loses. A Quad 3 win isn’t as pretty as a Quad 3 loss would be ugly. A win would be a win, but in a buy game against this caliber of opponent, it doesn’t come close to matching what an ACC game could offer.
The upshot is that North Carolina should roll. And better yet, it’s a chance to stretch the legs in a competitive matchup ahead of Saturday’s looming Louisville game. It may not impact the push to get off the bubble, but if nothing else, it prevents the team from going a week between games and provides some stability in a season that’s had very little of it.
“It’s hard to get rhythm. It’s hard to get into a routine. It’s hard to get into what everybody’s accustomed to,” Williams said Monday. “With seven of our top guys freshman, they don’t have any idea what’s going to happen from one to the next. It’s an unusual situation we’re all in.”