Basketball

Preview: UNC women’s basketball faces hurdles, opportunity in ACC tournament

Preview: UNC women's basketball faces hurdles, opportunity in ACC tournament

With a 23-5 record and a top-10 finish in the NCAA NET Rankings, North Carolina’s No. 16 women’s basketball team has all but guaranteed a spot in the NCAA Tournament.

But with one basketball weekend remaining before Draft Sunday, the ACC tournament could go a long way to improving the Tar Heels’ standings for March Madness. With ESPN’s Bracketology predicting eight ACC teams to do the big dance, there will be plenty of opportunities for resume-defining wins.

On Friday, North Carolina will have the chance to earn one of those victories against fellow March prospect Virginia Tech. And if the Tar Heels win this game, things won’t get any easier, as they will likely face No. 3 NC State in the semifinals.

Here are three factors that could determine North Carolina’s success in Greensboro.

Prove they can beat the best

Despite upsetting then-No. 3 Louisville at Carmichael Arena, the Tar Heels have yet to reach the point of consistently beating some of the top teams in the conference. Four of UNC’s five losses have come to ranked opponents, and the fifth — a five-point loss on the road in Blacksburg, Va. — came against a Hokie team that has moved up to 21st since that time. competition.

By contrast, the Tar Heels have only two wins over ranked opponents at the time they played — the upset against Louisville and a rivalry win against a Duke team that is quickly slipping away from NCAA Tournament talk.

The Tar Heels, who are currently ranked in the top five seeds by ESPN, have a realistic chance of improving their standings ahead of Sunday’s draft. In the Selection Committee’s recent top-16 rankings, the Tar Heels were in the four-seeded line — likely in large part because of their lack of high-quality wins.

If they’re able to advance through a field of stacked ACC tournaments this weekend, every game will be a chance to bolster their NCAA tournament resume.

In addition to Deja Kelly

Sophomore guard Deja Kelly is North Carolina’s leading scorer and won that title — she shoots a second-best team at 35% from beyond the arc, led UNC in scoring in 13 games this year and has an impressive offensive bag.

But when the Tar Heels are at their best, Kelly has major assist on the offensive end. Take Louisville’s victory for example, when Kelly topped his average with 18 points but was helped by 19 and 9, respectively, from fellow sophomore guards Kennedy Todd-Williams and Alyssa Ustby.

Next, another of the Tar Heels’ most impressive wins — a 25-point blowout from Virginia Tech in January. Kelly contributed 15 points but was joined in a double-digit tally by three other players.

North Carolina can compete when Kelly feels it on the offensive end. But to beat some of the best teams in the country in Greensboro, the Tar Heels will have to spread the wealth.

Bounce, bounce, bounce

North Carolina isn’t a particularly big team, but they’ve been able to control the glass frequently this year.

Against Louisville, the Tar Heels grabbed 10 more boards than the Cardinals — knocking down an impressive 13 on the offensive side. Even in their recent clash with the Wolfpack, the Tar Heels were able to keep the battle on the boards close, rebounding by just five against a serious national title contender.

Preventing opponents from getting second chance points and earning their own second shots has been key for the Tar Heels as they have outshot opponents by eight boards per game this year.

If they can compete on the glass with the best in the ACC, they can beat them.

@zachycrain

@dthsports | [email protected]

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