North Carolina coach Roy Williams said he will likely remind his team of the importance of not looking ahead to this weekend's rematch with Duke.
But the reality is this: Saturday matters. Wednesday doesn't.
In a quirk of the men's basketball standings that could throw a wrench into coaches' don't-look-past-the-next-game mantra, this year's ACC regular-season champion (and top seed in the conference tournament) will be determined when No. 4-ranked Duke faces 13th-ranked North Carolina at 8 p.m. in the Smith Center.
Duke-vs.-Clemson and UNC-at-Florida State on Wednesday? Those games could ultimately have an impact on third place, but not first.
It's as simple as this: The loser of Saturday's game can't finish first in the standings.
The scenarios for Duke:
No. 1 if it beats UNC.
No. 2 if it beats Clemson and loses to UNC, and/or FSU loses once.
No. 3 if it loses twice while FSU wins twice.
No. 1 if it beats Duke.
No. 2 if it beats FSU and loses to Duke, and/or FSU loses to N.C. State on Sunday.
No. 3 if it loses twice and FSU wins twice.
The most important thing to remember: If Duke wins Saturday, tying UNC atop the standings, the Blue Devils get the No. 1 seed and regular-season ring because they have already beaten the Tar Heels once, and thus hold the head-to-head tiebreaker. If UNC wins Saturday but finishes knotted with the Devils atop the standings, the decision goes to a second tiebreaker, which is winning percentage against the third-place team. The Tar Heels went 1-1 against the Seminoles, while Duke went 0-1; UNC went 1-0 against Virginia Tech, while Duke went 0-1.
"I don't pay any attention to tiebreakers and those sorts of things; for me, I just know we have to win," UNC forward Tyler Zeller said. " And if we keep doing that, we put ourselves in a pretty good situation."
Particularly if they prevail next weekend.
Jockeying for position
While the No. 1 seed is still up for grabs, No. 12 isn't. Wake Forest has already secured its place in the 2:30 p.m. Thursday game.
The Wolfpack will play on Thursday, too; the question is, when?
N.C. State's seeding scenarios:
No. 8 if it wins twice, or beats Virginia and Miami loses once.
No. 9 if it loses twice and Miami loses twice.
No. 10 if it loses twice and Miami wins once.
If N.C. State beats Virginia tonight and the Cavaliers, Wolfpack and Hurricanes all finish 6-10, they would have the same group record, and the tiebreaker for the No. 8 seed would depend on which team, Florida State or Virginia Tech, finishes higher in the final standings.
N.C. State wing Scott Wood, coming off of a season-best 20 points in Saturday's win over Georgia Tech, has followed an "off" game with an "on" game since the Pack's win over Clemson on Feb. 17. He had five points against the Tigers followed by 15 at Maryland and three against UNC.
Wolfpack coach Sidney Lowe has a theory for Wood's intermittent struggles.
"I know he's my player, and I might be a little biased, but I think the film doesn't lie, he gets held more than anybody I've ever seen," Lowe said. "They just literally grab him, grab his jersey and hold him."
Matchup problems also play a part in Wood's inconsistencies. UNC's Harrison Barnes, who is bigger and more athletic, was a tough draw last Wednesday. Wood was able to find more room against Georgia Tech's smaller guards because the Jackets used guard Iman Shumpert to defend forward C.J. Leslie.
UNC forward John Henson, who is shooting 42.6 percent from the free throw line this season, is 6-for-6 over his last two games.
Staff writer J.P. Giglio contributed to this report.
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