Carolina didn't necessarily want any time off this weekend during the ACC Tournament, as they would've preferred to stay in Greensboro all the way through the trophy presentation on Sunday afternoon.
But players didn't exactly mind the 48-hour respite, either. Friday's quarterfinal loss to Pittsburgh gave the Tar Heels an opportunity to refocus on NCAA Tournament goals, which begin Friday night at 7:20 p.m. in a showdown with Big East Tournament champion Providence.
Before the team gathered for the NCAA Tournament selection show on Sunday evening, Roy Williams showed his squad an hour of clips from the loss to the Panthers, emphasizing plays--mostly, he said, that had to do with effort rather than execution--that would have to be different in the next phase of the postseason.
There were also some physical benefits to having a couple days of rest. Marcus Paige continues on pace to play the most minutes of any player in the Roy Williams era at Carolina; interestingly, he'll face a player on Friday who can relate, as Providence's Bryce Cotton has played a nation-leading 96.3 percent of the Friars' minutes.
But Paige also played against Pitt with his thumb wrapped as a precautionary measure, and then suffered a quadriceps injury during the second half that he said limited his cutting ability against the Panthers.
"The extra days were nice to get our legs back under us," Paige said after Carolina was assigned a sixth seed in the East Region. "My quad is starting to feel a lot better and my thumb feels fine. It's nice to have the extra day because of the Friday game. I'll be ready to go."
Paige's mother and sister were in Greensboro this weekend for the ACC Tournament, expecting to watch Marcus play three games. Instead, they only saw one, and when faced with some unexpected free time, they did exactly what you would expect of a family that includes two major college basketball players--they watched games on television. They didn't know it at the time, but it actually turned into an early scouting session, as the Paige family watched Providence beat Creighton on Saturday night and also caught part of an Iowa State game.
What he saw from the Friars probably confirmed what the stats suggest--it's going to be a battle on the boards. One of Carolina's strengths for most of the season had been rebounding. However, the Tar Heels have been beaten on the boards in three of the past four games, and were mauled by Pittsburgh's Talib Zanna in the ACC Tournament. As you would expect from the Big East champion, Providence has been strong on the glass, including ranking first in the conference in offensive rebounding percentage.
That's especially concerning because Carolina has given up too many second chance points lately, as they trail 44-19 in that category over the last five halves.
"We've cleared our minds and gotten our bodies back healthy over the weekend," said sophomore J.P. Tokoto. "We know we have some tough games ahead of us. But we also know it's a chance to play in some big games, and a chance to add to the legacy of North Carolina basketball."
Adding to that legacy would mean fighting some unfavorable Tar Heel history. Carolina has never made it out of the first weekend as a No. 6 seed, having gone 1-1 in both the 1996 and 2004 tournaments. In addition, the Tar Heels have never won an NCAA Tournament game in San Antonio, falling to Utah in the 1998 Final Four and to Kansas in the 2008 Final Four.
Those games, however, have nothing to do with this weekend at the AT&T Center, when Carolina will try to rewrite its history near the Alamo.
"We know there's no more time to go back and look at film and talk about what could have happened," Paige said. "When you look back and say 'what if' at this time of year, that leads to turning into waiting to play for next year. We have to be in the moment and make things happen, and we know we're good enough to do that."
Adam Lucas is the editor of CAROLINA.