Lucas: Tar Heel Basketball Notebook (Duke Edition)
Release: 02/19/2014

By Adam Lucas

Slow starts are a recent Tar Heel trend that can't continue Thursday night. In the last three games, Carolina has trailed Notre Dame 13-4 after eight minutes, Pittsburgh 18-11 after nine minutes and 17-3 after just six minutes at Florida State on Monday night.

As you may have repressed from your memory thanks to extensive therapy, a slow start was also a problem against Duke at the Smith Center last year. The Blue Devils blitzed to a 14-0 lead in the first four minutes of the game and led 26-9 after just eight minutes.

"I've always told them you're not going to lose a game in the first three or four minutes, and I honestly believe that," Williams said Tuesday night at his radio show with Jones Angell. "We were down 21-6 (against FSU), which was the biggest deficit we had but there was so much time left to play. And we had played terribly."

Williams said he was concerned about his team being "fat and happy" going into Tallahassee after winning six in a row. That shouldn't be a problem against Duke.

Unlike last year's Chapel Hill meeting with Duke, Carolina was able to chip away at Florida State's early advantage, and trailed by just three at halftime.

"We knew we had played our worst half of basketball all season," said James Michael McAdoo. "We were blessed with a gift because we were only down three."

Battle for the bye: There appear to be six teams with a realistic shot at one of the four ACC Tournament double byes. Because of this season's 15-team conference, four teams will not have to play on either Wednesday or Thursday, making it much easier to win the event.

Syracuse (12-0 in the ACC) and Virginia (13-1) appear to be virtual locks for a bye. Beyond that, it gets interesting, with Duke (10-3), Carolina (8-4) and Pitt (8-5) holding the best chances to earn a spot in the top four.

The Tar Heels have the benefit of the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Panthers, but they also have to play two games against the Blue Devils. Of the Duke/Carolina/Pitt trio, the Panthers have the easiest remaining schedule according to opponents' winning percentage, as their remaining foes have a league mark of .406. The Tar Heels are in the middle, at .474, and Duke checks in at .531.

Clemson currently sits sixth and is capable of sneaking into fourth if all three teams falter. The Tigers have a season finale against Pitt at Littlejohn Coliseum on March 8 that could be important.

At minimum, it appears likely that Carolina needs a split against Duke to have a strong chance at the top four. The biggest wild card for the Tar Heels is likely to be next week's visit to an NC State team that will be desperate for a quality win.

Briefly: A slightly troubling sign: McAdoo has fouled out of three of the past six games...Marcus Paige continues to be much more productive in the second half, and credits his mindset for allowing him to recover from some slow starts. "I don't let my performance in one half dictate how I feel the rest of the game," he said Wednesday. "I'm usually pretty even-keeled throughout the game."...Make sure you know all of ESPN's plans for UNC-Duke coverage throughout the day on Thursday...

Paige, by the way, mentioned Monday night in Tallahassee that there might have been one occasion during the game when he should have given the tired sign but instead chose to play through the fatigue. His minutes have become a topic of conversation, as he's averaged over 37 minutes per game over the last six games. "I've always been able to communicate (with the coaches) pretty well," Paige said. "Sometimes I don't do a good job because I get caught up in the game. Coach Rob will tell me, 'If you're tired, you have to let Coach know.' I'm playing heavy minutes but I'm not getting to the point that I'm exhausted."


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