At midseason, North Carolina's critics thought the team could be nose-diving into another NIT appearance.
A week into February, the Tar Heels' response is N-O-T.
North Carolina rebounded from a stunningly slow start to find a recent resurgence that earned a ranking in both major Top 25 polls this week. The Tar Heels have a chance to wrestle away sole possession of the ACC lead with a victory Wednesday at rival Duke.
The Tar Heels (17-5, 7-1) sit just a half-game behind the Blue Devils (21-2, 8-1).
Instead of crumbling after the unexpected transfer of Larry Drew II, the Tar Heels recorded an 89-69 victory over Florida State's solid defense to run their win streak to five.
"It is a shakeup, but at the same time, I think our kids are really together," coach Roy Williams said on the ACC teleconference Monday. "I have a great deal of confidence in my kids."
Freshman Kendall Marshall, who has replaced Drew at point guard, dished out a team-record 16 assists in the victory against the Seminoles.
Freshman Harrison Barnes, who was criticized for not immediately living up to preseason hype, has found his stride. He's averaging 22.7 points in the last three games.
"The experience that they've gained has made it a lot easier for them," Williams said.
The Tar Heels' offense has found a spark, averaging 85.6 points during their winning streak.
"They can get it down the court quickly," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "They can score from multiple positions. You have to defend them all over the place."
Infirmary worries: Teams that don't suffer injuries call themselves lucky. Teams that get through injuries are called good.
A few teams will have to patch things together to stay afloat with key players out.
Pittsburgh's Ashton Gibbs will miss up to two weeks with a knee injury. Not good timing, considering the No. 4 Panthers face No. 10 Villanova on the road Saturday.
Kansas doesn't want to rush back guard Josh Selby, who missed the last two games with a stress reaction in his right foot, but perhaps he'll be healed by Saturday's game against Iowa State.
Duke guard Kyrie Irving is still out indefinitely, but he used a few exclamation points on Twitter when announcing his cast has been removed. He injured his right big toe Dec. 4.
Louisville has an uphill battle in South Bend, Ind. It has Mt. Everest if Preston Knowles is still out with a hamstring injury.
Games to watch: Wednesday — Louisville at Notre Dame. The Cardinals' last trip to ND ended in a 33-point loss.
North Carolina at Duke. It's still the epicenter of all college basketball rivalries.
Saturday — San Diego State at UNLV. The Aztecs won at home against the Rebels in January but were held to just 55 points.
Ohio State at Wisconsin. Will the Buckeyes remain unbeaten at one of the Big Ten's toughest venues?
Sunday — Xavier at Duquesne. The winner owns sole possession of first in the Atlantic-10.
Purdue at Illinois. A victory would help Illinois' rep with the NCAA tournament selection committee.