When you think about the NCAA March Madness Tournament and the North Carolina Tar Heels, the question is usually how far will they go? Or will they face Duke? This year, however, the question is “Will they make the tournament?” Currently, they sit at 17-11 overall and 9-8 in the conference. That’s good for eighth in the ACC.
The Tar Heels, who were 20 minutes from winning the national championship last year before blowing a 15-point halftime lead to Kansas in the title game, have three games remaining to prove they deserve to get in — Virginia, Florida State, and Duke. If Virginia and Duke both beat UNC, which they both have once this season, the Tar Heels’ chances take an even bigger dip. With Selection Sunday quickly approaching on March 12, fans are getting increasingly nervous about the tournament chances for the Tar Heels this season.
The Tar Heels have only missed March Madness once in the last two decades. Although they were on the verge of being left out in 2020, they ultimately avoided that fate when the tournament was canceled due to COVID-19. The one time they did miss most recently was in 2010 when they finished with a record of 20-17 overall and 5-11 against the ACC.
As we get closer to Selection Sunday, some online sportsbooks may publish odds for certain teams to make the Field of 68. Online sports betting in North Carolina is not legal.
North Carolina’s Chances to Make the Tournament
The deciding factors to get in the tournament are record, strength of schedule, and quality of wins and losses. Currently, Sports Illustrated lists the Tar Heels as one of the first four left out of the tournament, which puts them right on the bubble.
The Tar Heels are 17-11 overall, but they could very easily finish the season 18-13, which would be hard to overlook for the selection committee. Teams that get in with that record or worse are usually conference champions from lesser conferences.
UNC’s strength of schedule is ranked No. 33, but it has gone 0-9 against Quadrant 1 teams this season, which also does them no favors. The easier the schedule, the higher your record is expected to be. This is another strike against their odds. Given they’ve already dropped two of the three biggest games that could have boosted their chances, their odds feel slim at the moment.
However, if they can upset Virginia, that win in combination with a close overtime loss to Alabama in November may be enough for the Tar Heels to sneak in, so be sure to tune in on Saturday, Feb. 25, to see if they can pull it off against the Cavaliers.
Sub-Par Shooting has Plagued UNC
The Tar Heels are on the verge, but they’ve been competitive in most of their games, even against some of the better teams in college hoops. They came within two points of knocking off the No. 2-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide, within seven of No. 6 Virginia, and within five of the No. 23-ranked Iowa State Cyclones. Those early season losses tanked their strong Final Four Odds.
The biggest reason they didn’t pull off at least one or two upsets this season to put themselves in a better position is lackluster shooting. As a team, they’re shooting 43% from the field and 29% from beyond the arc. That’s their season in a single stat. With the exception of big man Armando Bacot who is shooting 55%, the next closest player who has shot the ball 75 times or more is Leaky Black, who is shooting 42% from the field.
Caleb Love is the team’s second-highest scorer, and he is shooting 39% from the field. The overall inefficiency from the field for the Tar Heels as a whole is their Achilles heel this season. It’s hard to keep pace with the better teams with those shooting numbers.
Duke, NC State Appear Dance-Ready
If UNC is left out of the tournament, its fans will have a lot to hear from fans of the other big North Carolina teams. Both Duke and North Carolina State appear primed to make an appearance. The Blue Devils are 20-8 overall with two wins against ranked opponents. The Wolfpack have a 22-7 record and have just one ranked win, but they also have a variety of quality wins under their belt.
In ESPN’s latest Bracketology update, the Wolfpack are projected as a No. 8 seed, and the Blue Devils are projected as a No. 6 seed.
AP Photo/Chris Seward