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UNC and Pitt pulling in opposite directions after Heels win 75-71

By Matt Norlander | Staff Writer

We pretty much know the dossier on Pittsburgh. Terribly weak non-conference schedule, non-key wins in November and December, and now a complete lack of heft in league play when it comes to respectable victories.

With its best wins coming in Brooklyn against Stanford and at North Carolina State, this is not a Top 25 team. At a certain point the win total has to include beef, and Pitt's got nothing to display.

So the Panthers are paper tigers, and worst of it all, despite playing in a decent major conference, the rest of the schedule in the regular season does Jamie Dixon's club no favors from a resume-improving perspective. Five to go: three road games, two home tilts. The two best possible wins remaining -- arguably -- are at home against 14-10 Florida State next Sunday and on the road against 15-9 Clemson to close out the regular season.

Neither of those teams are remotely near NCAA tournament inclusion as of today.

Pitt will still probably make the NCAA tournament by sheer volume of overall wins (and a deceitful No. 30 RPI heading into Saturday), but to help its seeding it's going to need to beat UNC, Duke, Virginia or Syracuse in the ACC tournament. The No. 25 Panthers had their chances against all of those teams already in the regular season -- and dropped every single opportunity.

The last and most recent came Saturday, a road tilt at Carolina. Like all Pitt's losses this season, it was a close one and probably reason to give Dixon an ulcer on the flight home. The Panthers went 4-of-15 from 3 (this is not a team that should be taking 15 3-pointers per game) and was 26 for 64 from the floor in the 75-71 loss.

Most frustrating for Pitt: North Carolina didn't play all that amazingly either. But for UNC, it's a different outlook on its season. This six-game winning streak is now twice as long as any other UNC had from earlier this season. The 17-7 Heels have momentum, and more than anything, that's helpful/vital. Is this a top-20 team? I remain unconvinced of that -- but at least it's winning the games it should.

At least it's looking like a team that most coaches want: cresting through mid-February with a jelled group that's getting the most from its best players.

James Michael McAdoo (24 points, 12 rebounds) was definitely the star -- and be on the lookout for a profile or two on him going forward -- but Brice Johnson off the bench (13 points and a big swat late), Marcus Paige (18 points, four boards, four assists, four steals) were also integral.

J.P. Tokoto can fly a bit, too.

UNC hasn't achieved a seven-game winning streak since the 2011-12 season. It can get that by winning at Florida State on Monday. Remember when the Heels were flaky? They were fun then, but at the same time we didn't take them seriously while falling against UAB, Belmont, Wake Forest and Miami.

Now those early season wins over Kentucky, Michigan State and Louisville are increasing in value -- and this win streak is boosting UNC's stock. Far from a great team, but definitely a good one. February has a way of separating which schools are strongest. Thanks in part to a break in the schedule (who knows what would have happened against Duke were it not postponed due to snow earlier this week), Roy Williams' team is finally, truly hitting a groove.

More losses will come, but at least there's no doubt about UNC as a tournament team going forward.

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