The ‘Canes are nearing the end of their 9 day break, and while the last week hasn’t exactly been exciting for the ‘Canes or their fans, there has been plenty going on in the college basketball world that could affect the ‘Canes as the season grinds on. First of all the ‘Canes continued to climb the polls moving up to 6th in the AP poll and 8th in the Coaches poll. The ‘Canes will hope to crack the top 5 with a win over George Washington on Saturday. ACC play also began and the Duke Blue Devils inexplicably lost to Boston College, further proving that there are no gimmes in the ACC. But perhaps most important to the ‘Canes and their fans is the play of the Minnesota Golden Gophers since the ‘Canes beat them at the end of November. On Monday night the Golden Gophers, who are far and away the ‘Canes best win thus far, won a nailbiter 68-67 against a Drake Bulldogs team that came into town donning a 93-65 loss to South Dakota. A loss to Drake would have been devastating for the Golden Gophers for obvious reasons, but this game would have also had negative implications for the ‘Canes as well.
Since being ranked 12th before losing to the ‘Canes on November 29th, Minnesota has dropped 2 out of 4, and fallen from the top 25 altogether. The two losses were road games against upstart teams in Nebraska and Arkansas, but the most frightening result has to be the one point victory over Drake. It will go down as a W in the standings, but that game will look terrible for the Gophers come March if they’re on the bubble. So how does the lackluster play of Minnesota affect the ‘Canes?
The ‘Canes are currently without Bruce Brown Jr. who is still recovering from a left hand injury, but is expected back for the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic. Whether he will be his same old self or not right off the bat is yet to be seen, but any type of hand injury in basketball is bound to take some getting used to. The ‘Canes shouldn’t have any problem with George Washington on the 16th, but then again Boston College did just beat Duke, and Notre Dame has lost a home game to Ball State, so one can never feel too safe.
What Minnesota’s slide has done, is made it so that the ‘Canes can’t slip up against anyone in non-conference play. While the win in Minnesota is certainly a quality win, it looks worse and worse with each passing day. This should easily be the ‘Canes best win of the non-conference, and should the ‘Canes slip up here and there in ACC play, their non-conference schedule could be what keeps them from being on the 1 or 2 line and instead drops them down to the 3, 4, or even dreaded 5 line. It happens every year. Teams are defined by their entire body of work. Duke just lost to Boston College, but if that is one of only a handful of losses for Duke, they will still find themselves on the 1 or 2 line because of quality wins over Michigan State and Florida in the non-conference. The ‘Canes don’t have any marquee wins like that.
The Minnesota game was supposed to be the one the ‘Canes hung their hats on when the committee said “who did they beat outside of conference play?” The ‘Canes non-conference Strength of Schedule currently ranks 297th in the country (Oh boy). That is not very good for a team that is currently ranked 6th in the country. Obviously the ‘Canes will have plenty of opportunities to win big games in conference play, and can adopt the football team’s belief that as long as they win it doesn’t matter who they beat or how much they win by. But in order for the ‘Canes to have a bit of a cushion heading into conference play, they need Minnesota to right the ship and climb back into the rankings. The Big Ten is down this year, a fact that was exploited by the beat down that the ACC put on them in the Big Ten/ACC challenge, so the Gophers won’t have as many opportunities to prove themselves come conference play, and their schedule will be loaded with trap games.
Look, the ‘Canes are in great shape right now. They’re one of only 7 undefeated teams in the country, and don’t seem to be in any trouble even with a future lottery pick sitting on the bench. But it would still be nice if that win in Minnesota carried a little extra weight come March. So while we’re all ‘Canes fans first, as the season unfolds, we should all be Golden Gophers fans second.