CHAPEL HILL Three North Carolina-related things to consider on this gray Monday morning from Chapel Hill:
Welcome to North Carolina vs. N.C. State week. The Tar Heels have beaten the Wolfpack nine consecutive times in the regular season and 10 overall, including the victory in the 2007 ACC Tournament championship game.
UNC and State will meet Thursday night at the Smith Center and, for the first time in a long time, this game will affect the top of the ACC standings. The Wolfpack will enter with a 4-1 conference record. To help put that into perspective I went back and searched College Basketball Reference for the last time an N.C. State team entered a game against UNC with as good of a conference record as the Wolfpack has now.
And I couldnt find such a team. Now, granted, College Basketball Reference only contains year-by-year records for N.C. State going back to the 1979-80 season. And, obviously, the Wolfpack entered the first UNC game during the David Thompson years of the early-to-mid 70s with a better record than they have now. But it has been a long time.
Entering its first game against the Tar Heels, State was 3-1 in the ACC in 1989, 1987 and 1982. But never 4-1.
**UPDATE: As astute reader Austin Johnson notes, the Wolfpack was 4-1 in ACC play entering the 2004 game at the Smith Center, as well. Id earlier counted a loss against Boston College as a conference loss, but the Eagles didnt begin conference play until 2005-06 season. UNC, by the way, entered that 2004 game with a 2-3 ACC record. The Tar Heels defeated the Wolfpack 68-66.
Which means this game means something again. Should be a fun atmosphere in the Dome on Thursday night.
By the time UNC plays State on Thursday, the Heels will have had basically an entire week to figure out how to compensate for losing Dexter Strickland to a season-ending knee injury. As UNC coach Roy Williams put it on Thursday night after his teams victory at Virginia Tech, you have to hate it for Strickland, who was an underrated but important part of UNCs success to this point.
Reggie Bullock is likely to slide into the starting lineup. He can shoot and defend but without Strickland, the Tar Heels have no proven option to back up Kendall Marshall at point guard. Freshman Stilman White is likely to receive more minutes here and there, and so too could Justin Watts.
Williams will address the conundrum during his ACC teleconference here in just a bit.
Nine days later, UNCs loss at Florida State looks at least a little bit better than it did on Jan. 14. No, theres still no excuse for being beaten by 33 points, but the Seminoles again looked strong in their victory at Duke on Saturday.
If FSU had avoided embarrassing performances in defeats against Princeton and Clemson, you could make a case that the Seminoles just might be the ACCs best team at this point in the season. But those losses as well as non-competitive defeats against Michigan State and Florida just make the Noles recent success all the more confusing.
Remember, too, that UNC doesnt get another shot against Florida State in the regular season.