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How Many ACC Games Will UNC Win This Season?

Alternate title: “Can UNC go 16-0 in the ACC”

Now that UNC has finished up the non-conference slate with a tidy 13-2 mark, our attention now turns to the sixteen game ACC docket. Based on the past 10 weeks or so of basketball it is painfully clear the ACC is extremely weak as a conference. Currently it is looking like at probably four bids in the NCAA Tournament with only UNC, Duke and Virginia showing any real interest in winning on a consistent basis versus good competition. The relative weakness of the league means if there was ever a season UNC could probably run the conference table this one is probably it random losses notwithstanding.

Historically UNC has gone undefeated in ACC regular season play three times: 1957, 1984 and 1987. In all three of those cases UNC went 14-0. Since the ACC moved to sixteen games with the addition of Florida St in 1992, only one team has gone 16-0 and that was Duke in 1999 in a year where the ACC was probably as weak as it is right now. The ACC only put three teams in the NCAA Tournament that season: Duke, Maryland and UNC. In UNC’s history the Heels have never won more than 14 games in ACC play, a feat they have accomplished seven times, three times since Roy Williams took over in 2004.

In terms of the current season, Ken Pomeroy lays out the win probability for every game on the schedule. According to KenPom there is only one game UNC is projected to lose out of the final sixteen. KenPom gives the Heels only a 41% chance of winning in the regular season finale in Durham vs Duke. Here is the breakdown of UNC’s remaining games by win KenPom win probability:

90-99%: 8
80-89%: 1
70-79%: 3
60-69%: 3
50-59%: 0
Below 50%: 1

Eight of those games are in the 90% range and one is in the 80% range which makes them similar to the recent slate of games UNC just finished, Texas included. Those nine games include five ACC teams ranked 125th or worse in KenPom which is the most UNC has ever faced in an ACC season(previous record was three.) After that the three games in the 70% range are road contests at Florida St, NC State and Miami. The games in the 60% range are at home vs Duke and on the road vs Virginia and Virginia Tech.

The win probabilities all seem fairly reasonably, especially the two games in Virginia. The 76% win probability at NC State strikes me as a tad high. Taking these numbers into consideration I would expect UNC to win all eight ACC games at home, easily win at Wake Forest and Maryland plus beat Miami in Coral Cables. The remaining five games are the ones that serve the best chance of derailing a potential 16-0 season or hand UNC at least two losses.

Jan. 14 at Florida State(70% win probability)

Yeah, I know FSU lost to Princeton and Harvard and quite frankly is a disappointment for a team expected to hang around in the top half of the ACC but they also present a matchup issue for UNC. FSU has good interior size, can be very physical and plays outstanding defense. In other words, it will be a lot like playing UNLV except FSU’s offense is six kinds of awful. Not to mention this will be UNC’s first foray away from the Dean Dome since the Kentucky game.

Jan. 19 at Virginia Tech(66% win probability)

If Seth Greenberg’s teams played everyone else as well as they played UNC or Duke in Blacksburg, the Hokies might make it into the NCAA Tournament. Going to Blacksburg has historically been tough for both UNC and Duke though UNC has fared better as the favored team than Duke has. The Hokies have shown themselves to be a decent team though they probably should have won at Minnesota and beaten Kansas St. at home. This will be a tough game for the Heels and the second straight road game with the Heels having gone to Tallahassee five days prior.

Feb. 21 at NC State(78% win probability)

KenPom says UNC has a 78% chance of winning this game and I think that is a tad high. Granted we are taking a long view of this and there is no way of knowing how either team will be playing 6-7 weeks from now. However, I get the sneaking suspicion the Wolfpack will be up for this game, especially if the Heels take care of the first game in Chapel Hill. Plus, assuming UNC wins the first game this will be for a 12th straight win over the Pack. Something has got to give at some point right?

Feb. 25 at Virginia(63% win probability)

UVa has shown itself to be a very good team and this one screams loss for a couple of reasons. First is UVa’s style which is similar to Wisconsin’s. Secondly, this will be in Charlottesville where undoubtedly the Cavaliers will shoot the ball well. Add to the mix All-ACC caliber big man Mike Scott who is a double-double guy which will give UNC a stiff challenge on the boards. This sort of game will require some crisp execution from the Heels and if you recall last season’s game at UVa was one UNC nearly lost.

Mar. 3 at Duke(40% win probability)

This really doesn’t need any explanation. It’s UNC-Duke. It’s in Durham. It will be a tough win to grab for all the reasons you already know.

Another interesting caveat to this discussion is the fact UNC has never started better than 3-0 in ACC play under Roy Williams. According to our resident stat guru C.Michael, the Heels of the Roy Williams era routinely lose at least one game in their first four.

2004: 1-3
2005: 3-1*
2006: 2-2
2007: 3-1
2008: 3-1*
2009: 2-2
2010: 1-3
2011: 3-1

*Started the season 3-0.

For the record UNC’s third and fourth games of the ACC schedule this season are two of the five games highlighted above: at FSU and at Virginia Tech. It is possible we see the same sort of thing happen here simply because Roy’s emphasis has always been on peaking in March not January. In fact, as C.Michael has pointed out in the past the more important number to look for is a ten game winning streak which will happen if UNC beats Boston College, Miami and FSU to open the ACC season 3-0. Since winning the NCAA title requires a six game winning streak it is important for a team to show they can at least put together such a win streak over a period of time versus differing caliber opposition. The 2005 team had a 14 game winning streak at one point in the season. The 2009 team won 13 straight to open the season then ten straight after the loss to Wake Forest.

The difficult part of predicting a win total, is you never know in college basketball when a combination of events/factors will equate to a loss. That is why predicting 16-0 is pretty much done on a lark and not for any serious reasons. When ACC play started in 2009, the conventional thinking based on the way UNC had handled the likes of Michigan St was the game at Wake Forest would be the only roadblock to 16-0. As it turned out UNC ended up 13-3 losing that game plus bad outings against Boston College at home and on the road vs Maryland and the giant killer Gary Williams. Last season UNC could have lost several games that went down to the final minutes before The Black Falcon made an appearance. Bearing all of that in mind, the safe bet is another 14-2 ACC mark good enough to snag back-to-back ACC Regular Season titles. Two “any given night” losses are totally conceivable and if that does happen will likely be one of the five above with an additional wary eye cast at that Feb. 15th game in Miami.

Whatever the case 14-2 puts the Heels at 27-4 and in position for a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. At that point, I fully expected this team will show up with plenty of motivation to win an ACC title.

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40 comments to How Many ACC Games Will UNC Win This Season?

  • “Plus, assuming UNC wins the first game this will be for a 12th straight win over the Pack. Something has got to give at some point right?”

    Ask Clemson… ;)

  • faustus1500

    I would give NC State a better chance at beating UNC based on the simple fact that Sidney Lowe is no longer around. Virginia is the only team outside of Duke which worries me.

  • At Virgina, at Duke, and maybe at NC State are the games that look troublesome. Then there’s always one off day where you lose to someone you shouldn’t lose to… think Maryland in 2009.

    We never seem to play well in Virginia it seems.

    I’m going with 13-3.

  • faustus1500

    Scratch that. The Miami game could be dangerous now that Johnson is back and Kadji as been playing well.

  • makeitWayne22

    “I would give NC State a better chance at beating UNC based on the simple fact that Sidney Lowe is no longer around. Virginia is the only team outside of Duke which worries me.”

    One of my favorite parts about Roy is how much he hates NC state, something i hope our football coach picks up on.

  • LarryS

    “The difficult part of predicting a win total, is you never know in college basketball when a combination of events/factors will equate to a loss. That is why predicting 16-0 is pretty much done on a lark and not for any serious reasons.”

    This is true for the most part, particularly not knowing what circumstances will equate to a loss. But with this year’s team, in this year’s conference, I also feel the prediction of an undefeated conference campaign would be somewhat more than a lark, and could have pretty solid reasoning behind it.

    I mean if Pomeroy, for example, has UNC with good probabilites of winning each of 15 games (those probabilites will lower some when/if they lose their first game), then it’s not a stretch to imagine them finishing 16-0.

    Do I think it will happen? No, because it is just so hard to do, even for outstanding teams. But here’s where the tricky part of predicting losses comes in. It’s easy to say, after the fact, that UNC was ripe to lose a certain game, or that you knew that they weren’t going to beat State for the 12th straight time, etc. Outside of Duke, though, it almost seems a bit of a lark to pick who else they will lose to.

    If Carolina really starts clicking, all 8 of them, and Barnes gets on a mission, then, even on an off night, I like their chances. And if they go into Durham at 15-0….well, that would be one special game.

    After all that, I’ll be conventional, saying they will finish 14-2 with one of the losses to Duke in Durham. I have no idea who the other will be to.

  • tht23

    a rough estimate of ken poms statistics gives us around a 2.5% chance of going undefeeated

  • “then it’s not a stretch to imagine them finishing 16-0.”

    Of course, if they do go 16-0, then the fun debate will be, “Is it better for them to lose in the ACCT, or go into the NCAAT with a 26-game winning streak?”

    I’ve always been of the opinion that a loss in the ACCT is a good way for the coach to refocus his team and correct any bad habits that may have been covered up because of the win streak, but if the streak was particularly dominant, maybe that wouldn’t be necessary.

  • MCHeelFan

    Good stats! I’d be ecstatic if they finish three losses total, or better…a goal they should be able to reach given how poor the bottom of the ACC is this year. Although I’d give up a few extra losses with a win of the ACC tourney. I think it’s much more important that they go into the NCAA tourney playing their best basketball.

    Off Topic question? Can anyone tell me why our recruit from 2013, Isaiah Hicks is ineligible to play so far this season? I live in the Midwest and not privy to decent basketball info. I’m surrounded by dilusional Big-10 fans.

  • scl11


    A loss in each of the two game away stretches @ FSU & VPI and @ NCSU and UVA

    Barnes is not leaving Chapel Hill without a win in Hansbrough Indoor

  • BoyWilliams


    We’d have a lot more chance for undefeated
    if we made like the UK cats and cheated
    or acted like a ref-baiting K and bleated
    or maybe if we kept the Dome way heated?
    …but who cares, we’ll still be #1 seeded

  • Asheville Heel


  • TarHeelGreg

    Assuming 14-2 and a split with Duke, to get the ACC Tournament top seed it could come down to a tie-breaker. Then, the way the NCAA Selection Committee defers to Duke, pulling for “help” from other teams is a strong possibility.

    But I pull against Duke, anyway. All things considered 14-2 would be acceptable and it could be interesting down the stretch.

    Let the games begin!

  • logic


    Three losses will be at VT (who will then of course get hammered by UVA 3 days later), at UVA, at Duke. With NCSU, I just feel this team has their number…we will see. In this scanario, UNC would have two 10 game win streaks before the ACCT. Then hopefully they would finish with a 9 game streak.


    Can someone multiply out Pomeroy’s percentages and give us one number predicting if we go undefeated?

  • LarryS

    Even if ALL the individual game probabilities strongly favored UNC, the probability of them going undefeated would be relatively low.

    It’s similar to when even the best #1 seeds are only given a 30% - 35% chance of winning it all in the NCAAT.

  • Cincy Chris

    As bad as the bottom half of the ACC is, I wonder how many of them our second team could beat?

  • scl11

    “Can anyone tell me why our recruit from 2013, Isaiah Hicks is ineligible to play so far this season?”


    evidently and enrollment issue with his new school

  • harrisonbarnes11

    I really don’t think we realize how bad the ACC is this year and how good we are starting to play. Realistically, I think we go 15-1 with a loss possibly at Duke. Other than that I just do not see an ACC team who plays anywhere near how good we really can be. 15-1 mark it down.

  • Asheville Heel

    To lose to NCSU we will have play a stinker and the Wolfies shoot lights out at the new barn. Could happen, but if it does, look for Ol’ Roy to pass-out on the sideline.

  • chapelhillfan

    14-2. We’ll lose a legit one and this team, I predict, will have a stinker of a game somewhere along the line.

  • Heel To The End

    Henson’s sis is having knee surgery, out for the year.

  • “Can someone multiply out Pomeroy’s percentages and give us one number predicting if we go undefeated?”


    Even if you round the 8 games in which UNC is 90+% to 100, it still only works out to a 3.99% chance.

  • “Henson’s sis is having knee surgery, out for the year.”

    a) That sucks, best of luck to her.

    b) I initially did not see the “sis” and thought that this was a remarkably calm post given what (I thought) it was saying… ;)

  • rathskellar68

    13-3. You almost always lose somewhere you didn’t expect to. Every season, somebody’s shooting guard you never heard of before goes unconscious from 3-land, hits 9 of 13 from there, and our comeback falls a little short.

    We’ve all seen this too many times to think it won’t happen this year too.

  • LarryS

    ^^^ CM, since I know little about probability formulas, I was curious how this was computed (as you and tht23 obviously did), or where the info. could be found. I tried searching for it but didn’t quite know how to word the search.

  • I just took the 16 individual game probabilities from KenPom’s UNC scouting report and multiplied them together.

    Of course, this assumes that, a) the outcomes of each game are completely unrelated (I don’t believe this is entirely true with college kids) and b) KenPom’s probabilities are accurate (they are certainly a reasonable approximation).

  • jtchill84

    I think the State worries are overblown, because my daughter went to Alabama and I watched Gottfried coach several big (for them) games; from those observations I would say he will be overwhelmed more than his team is. Plus, for those of us old enough to have been around when Roy was a young assistant, the big demon then was in Raleigh, not Durham, and our motto was “Teach a young child to hate State”. He still has that in him.
    I also think we’re better this year than we realize; lots of weapons, one person being off won’t kill us, two more can step in, different skill sets from every player, defenses won’t be able to adapt. Barring injury, I’m calling 16-0. Injuries to one or more starters, we’ll lose at dook and UVA.

  • 52bgJ

    Lorenzo Brown is for real, so a let-down to the Pack wouldn’t totally surprise me. 13-3

  • Heel To The End

    and thats why he doesnt want to play true road games, folks.

    the Murton Plumlees got 16 and 13, and 17 and 3.
    just goes to show you that the Plumlees arent going to beat you.
    they apparently controlled the guards, and the 3pt line.

    refer back to this when we play them.

  • LarryS

    ^True. As hot as Duke’s guards were last game they were just as ineffective tonight. (Good 3P% but 6 fewer 3P attempts than their norm) Plumlees with almost half of Duke’s points.

  • Duke’s backcourt was awful in this game. It won’t happen much but there will be games where the offense will sputter for them because they don’t really have many complete scoring weapons nor a true point guard who can facilitate the offense.

  • makeitWayne22

    Last 5 possessions, Austin dribble dribble dribble dribble drive shot. Repeat.

    Ill say it again if PJ was given the same opportunities that Austin is getting he would win ACC ROY and potential ACC 2nd team. Not saying PJ needs that role, just saying how much better PJ is than Austin.

    No way Rivers puts up 19 points in 12 minutes off 7 shoots, dont care who the opponent is

  • PRGuy

    Less interested in whether or not the Heels go undefeated in conference play than in whether or not they win the ACC tournament. About time we win the dadgum thing again.

  • Kinne

    15-1, we will probably lose to someone not expected and have renewed focus during the key away games( Duke, Virginia, NC State, and VT ). Plus I don’t see our guys not having a chip on their shoulder after the Cameron game last year. Also I think we will lose in the ACCT( which seems to be a trend ).

    By the way BoyWilliams is a beast!! Keep it coming, this was the best one yet.

  • Heel To The End

    i find it hard to believe that K likes Rivers that much, as a person. i only watched the last few minutes, when a friend told me they were going to lose. i saw him come out and plop down in the seat like a 5-yr old, all sulky.
    how does Cook play just 12 minutes when he’s been coming on?
    please, K, dont change a thing for us.

  • tarbender

    Kenpom should have a projected final regular season win total for UNC (at least they did this last year). Anyone know what it is?

  • KenPom has UNC at 26-5 and 13-3 in the ACC.

    2.4% chance of going 16-0.

  • AZACCFan

    Beat Duke = defend 3 point shots.

    Handing the ball to Plumlee = turnover.

    When they are not bombing the 3, there is no other way.

    This gives up most of the floor.

    Does not seem like a successful strategy for the country’s most winning coach. But they persist. Curious.

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