UNC Basketball: Can they turn 56 into 57?

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Marcus Paige handles the ball against Boston College (Photo credit: Bob Donnan/USA TODAY Sports)

The Tar Heels will host the Clemson Tigers at the Dean E. Smith Center in Chapel Hill this Sunday, January 26th at 6:00 PM.

Anyone who claims to be a UNC basketball fan knows the importance of this game and knows what is at stake.

Clemson is not one of the Heels rivals. Clemson is not ranked. So, why is this game so important?

The number 56 is why.

The Heels have won an NCAA record 56 consecutive games against the Tigers when they play in Chapel Hill. The last time Clemson defeated UNC when the Heels played at home was in 1926 when the two played each other for the first time at Chapel Hill.

The Tar Heels (11-7 overall, 1-4 ACC) are not sitting atop the conference like they typically do and this has Tar Heel fans worried. Inconsistent play has been prevalent this season and if Clemson wants to end the 56 game winning streak for the Heels, now would be the time to capitalize.

The Heels have beaten Louisville, Kentucky, and Michigan State this season, and those three teams have a combined 49-8 record. However, they have also lost to Belmont at home, lost to UAB on the road and were recently beaten by 15 by Virginia on the road.

The Clemson Tigers (13-5 overall, 4-2 ACC) have a chance to end a streak that has been going on as long as the players’ parents, and maybe even grandparents, can remember. The Tigers won their first two road games in the ACC and also had a 72-59 win over Duke at home. But like the Heels, the Tigers are coming off a bad loss. Clemson traveled to Pittsburgh last Tuesday and lost 76-43.

The Tar Heels are going to have to play the type of the game they are typically known for. They are going to have to play fast-paced and try to run the fast break, which is something they have been struggling to do this season. The Heels rank 26th in tempo, averaging 71.8 possessions per game, while the Tigers rank 348th and average only 60.5 possessions per game.

UNC is going to have to play their best offensively if they want to win. The Tigers defense is one of the best in the country. They are 8th in defensive efficiency, 2nd in defensive effective FG%, 3rd in three point shooting defense, and 1st in points allowed, allowing an average of 54.8 points per game.

That’s not something the Heels want to hear. Guards Marcus Paige and Leslie McDonald have been struggling to play consistently from behind the arc. The fast break is also crucial in this game. Whichever team controls the tempo, will most likely control the scoreboard. The tempo will be hard to control for the Heels because Clemson can slow it down as soon as they get the ball.

The Tar Heels will have to rely on turnovers if they want to keep the game fast-paced. That is somewhere where the Heels have an advantage. UNC has turned it over 230 times and have forced 262 turnovers. Clemson has turned it over 199 times and have forced 193.

If the Tar Heels make their shots, especially from behind the arc, and can keep the pace of play at a tempo they want, then they should be able to wake up tomorrow with a 57 game winning streak at home against the Clemson Tigers.