North Carolina point guard Joel Berry II can handle playing two games in three days.
Forward Theo Pinson isn’t bothered by the quick turnaround, either.
The NCAA Tournament is set up in a way that only those teams strong enough to win and then return to the court two days later without looking fatigued will advance.
The Tar Heels had no trouble doing that a year ago on their way to capturing another national championship. And they’ve repeatedly shown this season that they can make shots and look fresh while playing on little rest.
As the No. 6 seed in the ACC Tournament, North Carolina (25-10) played four games in four days last week, winning the first three by an average of 13.7 points. Berry and Co. came up short in a 71-63 loss to top-ranked Virginia in the championship game, but they had a chance down the stretch to pull off the upset.
If the No. 2-seed Tar Heels can do as expected and win their first-round game against No. 15 Lipscomb (23-9) at 2:45 EST Friday in Charlotte, N.C., then they’ll be back on the floor Sunday to face either No. 7 Texas A&M or No. 10 Providence.
“We don’t want to look ahead. I know the question is do we want to make it back to the Final Four, and that’s the ultimate goal, but right now we just have to make sure we are taking it one at a time,” Berry told reporters Thursday.
At times this season North Carolina has looked its best while playing back-to-back games or several in a short span. It helps that Berry is running the offense as a senior and getting help from upperclassmen like Pinson and All-ACC forward Luke Maye.
The Tar Heels played three games in four days at the PK80 Invitational in Portland, in late November, beating Portland and Arkansas by a combined 43 points before losing 63-45 to then-No. 4 Michigan State.
Then, in a span of three games in five days that extended into early December, North Carolina defeated Michigan and Davidson — both are in the NCAA Tournament — along with Tulane.
The turning point in the Tar Heels’ season came in early February following the team’s first three-game losing streak since the 2013-14 season. They knocked off Duke, North Carolina State and Notre Dame during a five-day stretch — all part of a six-game winning streak that helped them earn a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
So it wouldn’t be a big deal for North Carolina to have to play two games over the next three days to advance past the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament.
“Everyone understands what’s going on, but at the same time, we want everyone to be relaxed and just know that we need to take it one game at a time,” Pinson told reporters. “I think we are doing a good job of that right now, of making sure that the young guys understand that you can’t win it all until you win the first one.”
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