CHAPEL HILL — Three North Carolina-related things to consider on a gray Monday morning from Chapel Hill …
As has been the case more than a time or two before, it seems likely that North Carolina and Duke will meet on Saturday night in Cameron Indoor Stadium to decide the ACC’s regular season championship. For it to happen, UNC will need to defeat Maryland at the Smith Center on Wednesday night, and Duke would need to defeat Wake Forest in Winston-Salem on Tuesday night.
Assuming those two things happen, and it’s likely they will, then the end of this regular season would mirror the end of last season, when the final game between the Tar Heels and Blue Devils also decided the regular season champion. UNC won that game, at the Smith Center, but Duke defeated UNC in a rematch in the ACC Tournament.
A victory against Maryland, by the way, would guarantee that UNC enters the ACC tournament with no worse than the No. 2 seed. If UNC earns the top seed in the tournament, the Heels would play next Friday at noon, against either the No. 8 or No. 9 seed. If UNC is the No. 2 seed, it would play at 7 p.m., against either the No. 7 or No. 10 seed.
Either way, the regular season appears to be headed towards a predictable – yet exciting – ending.
If you read our coverage about UNC’s 54-51 victory against Virginia in Charlottesville on Saturday, then you know that UNC coach Roy Williams was adamant that the Cavaliers’ forward Mike Scott did indeed commit a foul when he was called for his fourth foul with 12 minutes remaining.
If you recall the play, both Scott and Tar Heels forward John Henson were going for a rebound. Scott turned his body, going for the ball, and it appeared in live motion that he elbowed Henson, who whipped his head back as if he’d been struck.
The officials convened to decide whether Scott had thrown an elbow, though a slow-motion replay showed the contact to be minimal. Henson, however, sold the play well.
“He threw a chicken wing out there,” Henson said afterward, “and fortunately for me he got his fourth foul.”
At the time, Virginia led 41-37. Scott played one of his worst games of the season, making just 3 of his 13 field goal attempts and to finish with 6 points, so it wouldn’t be completely accurate to say his foul trouble caused Virginia to lose. But if nothing else, the moment when he picked up his fourth foul turned out to be a turning point.
In the next minute, P.J. Hairston made a lay-up and then made a 3 to give the Heels a 42-41 lead.
With two games to play in the regular season, Tyler Zeller has emerged as the clear favorite to win ACC Player of the Year honors. He already has been named the men’s basketball academic All-American of the Year by one organization.
In conference games only, Zeller is fourth in the league in scoring (17.6 points per game) and second in rebounding (9.8 rebounds per game). He also leads the ACC in offensive rebounds per game (3.9).
Zeller has been the most well-rounded and consistent of all the players who have emerged as player of the year candidates. Scott, the senior forward at Virginia, will rightfully receive some attention for the award, but Virginia’s recent slide – the Cavaliers are 3-4 in their past seven games – hurts his cause.