CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- For the first time he can ever remember, North Carolina senior Tyler Zeller found himself cheering for Duke on Thursday night.
“Duke beat Florida State, so that gave us a little help,’’ he said.
The Blue Devils' victory in Tallahassee left them tied with the Tar Heels atop the ACC standings. Now if seventh-ranked UNC wins its last three games -- including the season-finale at Duke -- it grabs the ACC regular-season title, as well as the top seed in the ACC tournament.
“If we win out, we can win it,’’ Zeller said. “But we’ve got a tough one [Saturday at Virginia], Maryland [on Wednesday] is a very tough team, and everybody knows Duke is very, very good.
“We’ve got three games that are tough, but hopefully we can pull them out, and we’ll see what happens.”
It begins Saturday in Charlottesville, Va., against a team the now-seventh-ranked Tar Heels beat 70-52 earlier this month. UNC has won eight of its last nine against the Cavaliers, and three straight at Virginia.
A few things to watch:
Will this be the game during which the UNC point guard sets the new school record for assists in a season? He enters the game with 275 assists in 2011-12. Ed Cota recorded 284 during the 1999-2000 season.
Marshall is averaging 9.8 assists per game, and finished with “only” six the last time these two teams played. Judging by the math, it could be close.
The Virginia forward scored 10 points in a hurry at UNC earlier this month before he had to go to the bench with 10 minutes left in the first half because of foul trouble. He finished with 18 points in 27 minutes.
A big game would re-emphasize his place in the ACC Player of the Year discussion -- and push the Cavaliers’ chance at an upset.
The Tar Heels have won five straight ACC road games since their embarrassing 33-point loss at Florida State. The reason for the turnaround?
Said coach Roy Williams: “I think the attention to detail, and playing the best we can possibly play, and not just swagger out there and act like it’s going to be easy is the biggest thing.”
Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.