The North Carolina Tar Heels will play an unfamiliar role in this year's NCAA tournament—sleeper.
It's not often that the Tar Heels show up to the Big Dance as an underrated contender, but that's exactly the kind of potential they bring to the table this season.
The Tar Heels resume isn't elite by any means. A 1-4 record against AP Top 25 teams and a 3-7 record against teams in the RPI Top 50 doesn't bode well for the Heels' chances to garner very good seeding when the brackets come out. However, if we've learned anything from the March Madness tournament's past and this college basketball season, rankings ultimately mean very little.
The fact of the matter is momentum is a huge factor come tournament time. Whether it be the ACC tournament or the big dance, whatever teams happen to be clicking and playing with confidence are the ones that will make some noise.
The Heels early season losses to Butler, Indiana and Texas don't mean all that much now that the season is coming to an end. What does matter is that the Heels are playing some of their best basketball of the season right now.
Since dropping their last game at Duke on Feb. 13, North Carolina has reeled off six straight wins, including wins over potential tournament teams in North Carolina State, Virginia and Maryland.
The Tar Heels have had some struggles along the way, but their young talent is finally putting everything together.
That's what makes Saturday's rematch with bitter rival Duke so important for the team going forward.
Duke comes into the game as one of the most impressive teams in the nation with a resume that's just as good as anyone's in the country. The Blue Devils are a complete team with a good mix of inside and outside threats and veteran leadership.
In essence, they're the perfect team for the Tar Heels to beat to prove that they have what it takes to sneak up on people when the NCAA tournament finally tips off.
When these two teams met in mid-February, the Heels were coming off a blowout road loss to the Miami Hurricanes. Coming off of a bad performance and playing on the road, the odds were stacked against them. Throw in the fact that the Devils were on a five-game winning streak and its surprising that the Heels only lost by five.
Now the tables have turned a bit in the rematch. North Carolina will get to play the role of host on a streak this time around. Playing in front of their home crowd, they'll have the opportunity to prove whether or not the team has really turned a corner or the current hot streak is a by-product of bad competition.
The young Heels have the talent to pull off some big upsets in the coming weeks. But it all has to start with a big upset in their final home game of the season.