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Adam Smith | Burlington Times-News | March 2, 2019

North Carolina basketball: Amid their best ACC stretch in five years, Tar Heels sense special season shaping up

Andy Katz shares his new March Madness bracket

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Not only is North Carolina riding its best Atlantic Coast Conference stretch in five seasons, Kenny Williams sees signs that bode well for what's ahead with the arrival of March.

The senior guard, a member of two Final Four teams and an NCAA champion with the Tar Heels, said this season's group possesses that same kind of Final Four fabric.

"It definitely has a feel of some of those teams," Williams said this week. "Those teams were on a mission, and I think we're on a mission also. We've got hungry young guys and we've got hungry vets. I think it meshes so well, because the young guys are taking care of their business on the court. And then we've got the experienced guys that can calm us down in tough environments and tough spots in games."

Gonzaga moves to No. 1 in Andy Katz's new Power 36 rankings

North Carolina meets Clemson on Saturday night having won 11 of its last 12 games, its most successful run during ACC play since the 2013-14 season.

The Tar Heels, holding their highest national ranking of this season at No. 5, are coming off a 7-1 record in February and have assured themselves of a top-three finish in the league, thus securing a double bye into the quarterfinal round of the ACC Tournament.

TOURNEY TIME: ACC tournament schedule | March Madness schedule

North Carolina and Virginia are tied for first place atop the league standings, one game ahead of Duke, with three games remaining in the regular season.

"We're excited," North Carolina senior guard Cameron Johnson said. "We feel like we've got some momentum right now and we want to take advantage of it. We're enjoying it along the way and trying to win as many games as we can."

After freshman guard Coby White's season-best 34 points helped to steer the Tar Heels past Syracuse on Tuesday night, Williams said that North Carolina has been performing with more effort in general and making strides defensively as the season has progressed, though plenty of improvement on defense still can be achieved.

When the team practices, gigantic curtains cover the tunnels that open onto the Smith Center court. Williams cited North Carolina coach Roy Williams' familiar line of "if you walk through that curtain without getting better, then you're doing something wrong," as a way of beginning to explain why the Tar Heels seemingly reach their peak around this time of year.

Of course, Kenny Williams said jokingly, there surely are other means at work, too.

"I don't know how Coach does it," the guard said. "I don't know what he sprinkles in our food or whatever, but around the end of February and March, we're always playing our best basketball. He's got some magic spell over us to get us to do it."

Up next:

Who: No. 5 North Carolina (23-5, 13-2) at Clemson (17-11, 7-8)

When: 6 p.m. Saturday (ESPN) (see the full Saturday schedule here)

Where: Littlejohn Coliseum, Clemson, S.C.

Series: North Carolina leads 132-21. The Tar Heels have won 10 of 11 and 20 of 22 against Clemson, though the Tigers claimed the teams' meeting last season 82-78. 

This article is written by Adam Smith from Times-News, Burlington, N.C. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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