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February 8, 2013

The Power of Potential

It's go time for North Carolina.

UNC Head Coach Roy Williams might not like learning experiences but he's about to learn the postseason fate of his basketball club over the next five games.

North Carolina will play the ACC leading Miami Hurricanes on the road Saturday and will look to avenge an earlier 68-59 defeat.

After that the Heels will play at Duke, host Virginia, travel to Atlanta to play Georgia Tech and then play North Carolina State in Chapel Hill.

Over its next five games UNC will face off with three teams that have already beaten them this year (Miami, N.C. State and Virginia). During that same stretch they will play the two teams ahead of them in the standings (Miami and Duke) and the team that currently trails them by a half game (Virginia).

This year's North Carolina squad has heard the word "potential" thrown around a lot. The next few weeks have the potential to unveil whether this season is going to result in an NCAA tournament berth or and NIT invitation for the Tar Heels.

Tar Heels fans will remember the last time UNC failed to make the big show in March 2010. That 2010 team had some similarities to this year's team, namely the exodus of talent that flocked to the NBA Draft.

It's well documented that this year's UNC line-up doesn't feature a single starter from last year's Elite Eight team.

But this year's team has responded better to critical situations than the 2010 team did and is in much better shape, mentally and in the standings, because of it.

The 2010 team had multiple multi-game losing streaks while this year's team has only lost back-to-back games one time (Virginia, Miami).

Against N.C. State, UNC dug a large early deficit but clawed back to make it a single-digit game in the end.

UNC has gone on the road and faced high quality competition (Indiana).

All those experiences should make UNC stronger heading into the coming weeks.

Sure, Williams would have rather won those games. But those are the breaks for a team short on mileage.

Now is the time that UNC will rely on its veterans for leadership Reggie Bullock and James Michael McAdoo and need its young guys (Marcus Paige, Brice Johnson and Joel James) to not falter.

Paige had a coming out party against Virginia Tech, especially in the overtime period. UNC had a business like performance against Wake Forest, taking care of a team at home that was lower than them in the standings.

Players are beginning to find comfort in their roles. Johnson has developed a clever scoring touch around the basket, Paige has become a consistent hand and Leslie McDonald's return from an injury/suspension couldn't have come at a better time.

But the real key to the season has been sixth man P.J. Hairston. After suffering a concussion at Boston College, Hairston sat out against Virginia Tech and wasn't supposed to play against Wake Forest.

Instead, Hairston passed his concussion test the day of the game, after having battled the flu along with his concussion over the previous days, and stepped on the court against the Demon Deacons.

Hairston scored 11 points in 12 minutes two days after he couldn't sit on the Tar Heels bench because the UNC home crowd noise was affecting his head injury too much.

It was gutsy a performance and "potentially" underscores a larger point about this UNC team: Their tougher than they have shown.

But being something, "potentially", and actually being something are two completely different things.

Now is the time for results and the schedule, despite its daunting nature, is tailor made to make this a season that could be unexpectedly spectacular for UNC fans, if the Tar Heels play to their "potential."


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