After struggling to meet the preseason hype, North Carolina’s Pete Nance is eager to dig in with his Heels down the stretch.

Maybe the preseason prognostications weren’t that misguided after all.

Think back to October. A summer of hype culminated with North Carolina’s first preseason No. 1 ranking since 2015 and spawned a year characterized by lofty expectations.

Of course, we all know what happened next. The optimism surrounding the program faded by December with the Tar Heels falling out of the rankings, and, eventually, out of the ACC regular-season title race.

But the slide didn’t stop there. Tournament hopes began to dim as North Carolina dropped five of six games during a crucial point in the year. A Feb. 19 loss at NC State — a game UNC led by six with 10 minutes to go  — marked the season’s nadir.

Champ Week: Complete conference tournament schedule
—Bracketology: Projected field | Bubble Watch
Tournament Index: March Madness projections, Cinderella picks

And yet, ahead of Saturday’s matchup with arch-rival Duke, the Heels have recovered some momentum. During their current three-game win streak, they have showed notable improvements on both sides of the ball. For instance, UNC held opponents to under .95 points per possessions in all three contests and made 47 percent of its 3s in the past two.

While multiple Tar Heels have shined at various points in the recent surge, Pete Nance deserves the bulk of the credit. In particular, the graduate forward has flashed the two-way brilliance that made him such a coveted transfer this past spring.

Of course, making open shots has lifted his offense of late. But that hasn’t always been a given this season.

Nance started the year making a respectable number of his 3-point attempts. He shot 34.0 percent from deep through UNC’s first 14 games before a back injury in a Dec. 30 loss to Pitt caused a major disruption. The ailment kept him out for essentially four games — upon his return, he looked like a shell of himself.

Now two months removed from the injury, Nance seems to have regained confidence in his shot. He has hit 7-of-10 from 3-point range in the past two games and 15-of-15 from the charity stripe dating back one game further. Nevertheless, his shooting hasn’t been the only encouraging development — and it might not even be the most important.

Log in to your HC+ account or sign up now to view this content.

Header image courtesy of UNC Athletics.