GREENSBORO — Roy Williams has seen just about everything there is to see in his 33 years as a college basketball coach.
Friday, in the semifinals of this year’s ACC Tournament, the Hall of Famer will experience something new when his North Carolina Tar Heels take on Florida State at Greensboro Coliseum.
While his sixth-seeded team will be playing its third game in as many days, the Seminoles will be playing for the first time in this tournament. It’s a situation created when Duke was forced to drop out of the event on Thursday after a member of its team tested positive for COVID-19, a situation that gave FSU a quarterfinal walkover to go along with the double-bye it earned as the No. 2 seed.
“Most of the time when somebody says, ‘Have you ever done this?’ I say yes,” Williams said after UNC’s 81-73 victory against Virginia Tech on Thursday that moved him ahead of Bobby Knight into third place on the all-time coaching win list with 903. “But I don’t know that I’ve ever faced this situation here.”
It’s never happened in the ACC Tournament, which dates all the way back to 1954.
While the scheduling quirk figures to favor the Seminoles and their fresher legs, Williams isn’t planning to spend much time worrying about a situation he and his team can’t control.
Besides, the Tar Heels had nine players log double-digit minutes in each of their first two games in Greensboro with only one — junior wing Leaky Black — on the floor for as many as 30. And senior forward Garrison Brooks didn’t play at all in Wednesday’s opener against Notre Dame while nursing an ankle injury.
“It makes no difference,” Williams said of the situation. “We’re still playing and at the end of the game, the team that scores the most points is going to be declared the winner, whether it’s your third game in a row or your first game. They play a lot of guys. We’ll try to play a lot of guys, too. Eighteen-, 19-, 20-, 21-year-olds aren’t supposed to get tired anyway.”
That’s the way Black is approaching things.
“I feel like it’s a challenge, but I feel like we’re up for it,” he said. “We practice every day and, honestly, I feel like half the time our practices have been harder than our games. You really just feel battle-tested. I feel like we’ve got the ball rolling right now, and I don’t think we’re going to stop.”
While UNC will be doing everything it can to rest and recharge in the hours leading up to Friday’s game, its opponent will be trying to stay sharp after going nearly a week since its most recent game.
FSU (15-5) hasn’t played since losing 83-73 to Notre Dame six days ago, its second loss in its final three regular seasons starts. The other setback was a 78-70 defeat at the hands of the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill on Feb. 27.
Like Williams, Seminoles coach Leonard Hamilton isn’t putting much stock in the scheduling disparity, saying that in the era of COVID-19, “preparing yourself for the unexpected is what we’ve been trying to do all year long.”
There has been plenty of “unexpected” over the past 12 months. Since last March, FSU has been awarded an ACC championship at one tournament and advanced to the semifinals of another without having played a game.
“Once you get into a postseason tournament, it’s more about you than it is about who you play,” Hamilton said. “We’re going to be who we are. They’re going to be who they are. Most of the time, the team that lives is the one that comes closest to realizing their potential.”
UNC (18-9) is currently in the midst of its best three-game stretch of the year dating back to a regular season-ending rout of Duke last Saturday.
The Tar Heels have been especially good here in Greensboro, taking advantage of their size inside with the quartet of Armando Bacot, Day’Ron Sharpe, Kerwin Walton and Brooks dominating the offensive glass against both the Irish and Hokies.
They’ve scored 44 second-chance points off 40 offensive rebounds in the two wins. But their assignment will get more difficult against a physical, veteran Florida State team that has split its two previous meetings with UNC.
“Florida State is a great team,” said freshman guard RJ Davis, who led the Tar Heels with a career-high 19 points against Virginia Tech. “We have to come out playing Carolina basketball. We played them twice so far, so we know a couple of their plays and how they play. We just have to come out and play with some heart. That’s really about it, and just play Carolina basketball.”