UNC (17-7, 7-4 ACC) trailed Pittsburgh (20-6, 8-5 ACC) by three games in the loss column after its 0-3 start in league play. In the first and only meeting between the two programs this season, the Tar Heels and Panthers were tied in the loss column (4) despite a two-game edge for the ACC newcomer in the win tab.
The new-look ACC Tournament will feature three games on Wednesday with the top nine seeds receiving a bye. In standard fashion, the top four seeds will receive a pass until Friday. Given the concern surrounding Marcus Paige’s minutes – he’s averaging 37.2 over his last five – carving additional games off the tournament schedule is critical for UNC’s chances to claim its 18th ACC Tournament title.
Pitt stood alone in fourth place in the standings at 8-4 entering Saturday’s contest. A Panthers win would have effectively given them a two-game edge over UNC in the loss column with its toughest games behind them. Pitt’s most difficult contest remaining is likely its season finale at Clemson on Mar. 8.
By knocking off the 25th-ranked Panthers, UNC assumes the two-game edge in the loss column with a tie giving the Tar Heels the higher seed once the ACC Tournament rolls around.
There’s still plenty of work to do. UNC is in the midst of a four-games-in-eight-days stretch that includes a road trip to Florida State on Monday before home tilts against No. 8 Duke on Thursday and Wake Forest on Saturday. The Tar Heels complete the regular season with three away games in their final four, including rivalry treks to N.C. State and Duke.
Those contests, however, take on greater meaning due to Saturday’s victory. A loss likely meant UNC was jockeying for positioning on Thursday. Now, even with several obstacles ahead, the Tar Heels control their fate for a Friday date in Greensboro and have the luxury of dropping a game along the way.
The Tar Heels, of course, aren’t looking at the next three weeks from that vantage point.
“We did drop the first three games and we’re on a six-game winning streak, but we’ve just got to look at every game as the next game,” sophomore wing J.P. Tokoto said. “We can’t look two games ahead and say, ‘Oh, we’re going to play them.’ Our next game is Florida State and we’re focusing on Florida State and getting ready for them.”