Entering the ACC Tournament, the general consensus in the Twittersphere and amongst "bracketologists" was that North Carolina was sitting right at the boundary of a 5/6-seed. With a convincing win against Boston College, the line of thinking trended towards the idea that the winner of UNC/Louisville would be a 4-seed, while the loser would be relegated to the 5-line. After taking care of the Cardinals, the Heels then went ahead and, somewhat surprisingly, knocked off Virginia. This, in the eyes of nearly everyone, not only locked UNC into a 4-seed, but also moved them into position to be the top 4-seed, meaning they would get paired with the lowest ranked 1-seed. With the way several of the other conference tournaments had played out, that figured to be UNC's ceiling, though it is possible that a win last night could have bumped Carolina up to a low 3-seed.
So what will the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee do with UNC, and where are the Heels likely to being playing their 1st and 2nd round games? Before getting into what the bracketologists think, let's first look at UNC's resume, as it will appear (roughly) on the sheets given to the committee members.
|Record||RPI||SOS||Opp. SOS||NC SOS||vs. T25||vs. T50||vs. T100|
The Tar Heels' resume actually presents a really interesting case for the Selection Committee. Based on its RPI, SOS (overall and non-conference), quality wins, and avoidance of "bad" losses (at #74 Pitt is their only loss outside the RPI top-50), North Carolina looks like a reasonable 3-seed. However, the shear volume of losses on its record suggests something more like a 5 or 6-seed. Over the last 10 seasons, the average number of pre-tournament losses for the 40 eventual 4-seeds has been 7.25, with the 2007 Virgina team being the only member of that group to have double-digit losses entering the Tournament(10). So what will the Committee do? Given the strength of the "good" on UNC's resume, and the fairly sharp drop in competition once one gets past the top 15-16 teams, it is my expectation that UNC will become the first 11-loss 4-seed since the 2004 Maryland team entered the NCAA Tournament at 19-11.
But what do the experts think, and just as important, who do they think the Tar Heels will be paired with? Below are the top four lines, presented by region, of the two most preeminent bracketologists in America: Joe Lunardi (ESPN) and Jerry Palm (CBS Sports).
|3||Notre Dame||Maryland||Oklahoma||Iowa State|
|4||N. Iowa||W. Virginia||UNC||Oklahoma|
The first thing that jumps out when looking at this is that there is a pretty strong consensus as to who are the top teams in the NCAA. Of the 16 teams that will comprise the top four lines of the NCAA brackets, Lunardi and Palm agree on 15 of them, with Lunardi favoring Louisville for the "last" spot, and Palm favoring West Virginia. There also appears to be some debate as to which ACC team (Duke or Virginia) will get the final #1 slot, and which Big 12 team (Iowa St. or Kansas) will get the last 2-seed and be slotted with Kentucky. Beyond that, the agreement is very strong, including having UNC locked into a 4-seed in the West with Wisconsin (1) and Arizona (2), which would actually be a very tough draw for Wisconsin. Not only would they have the potential of a semi-road game against Arizona in Los Angeles in the Regional Final, but to get there they may have to go through UNC, a team that is very talented and playing well, and is led by a coach who is 6-0 at UNC in the Sweet 16 and has made a habit of owning the Big 10 in the NCAA Tournament.
From the Tar Heels' perspective, the road they will likely have to take to get to a Sweet 16 match-up with the Badgers is somewhat clear, though the opponents are obviously less so. Because Duke and Virginia will both take priority when it comes to geographical placement, there is almost no chance that UNC will be able to play in Charlotte. It is remotely possible that the Committee could put Virginia in Pittsburgh for the first two rounds (the difference is only about 15-20 miles), move Maryland to Jacksonville, and then slot UNC in Charlotte, but the most likely scenario is that UNC will be playing its 1st and 2nd Round games in Florida.
As to which teams UNC will potentially play, that gets into an area that is really foggy, but still fun to look at. Both Palm and Lunardi project that UNC's first opponent will likely be Georgia State (#61 RPI, #71 KenPom). Assuming a win (unlike some other coaches, ahem, Roy has never lost a 1st Round game), Lunardi thinks UNC would be faced with either Wichita State (#18 RPI, #14 KenPom) or Wofford (#48 RPI, #90 KenPom), while Palm has Georgetown (#25 RPI, #21 KenPom) and Wofford in the 5/12-game opposite UNC.
And let's be honest... we all know that somehow, someway, UNC will be bracketed in a way to ensure a match-up with Kansas, because that's how it works, right??