With less than a month until Selection Sunday, the postseason is starting to take sha- haha, just kidding, this season is bonkers and nobody knows much of anything. Since CBS revealed their one-month-early top 16, the top of college basketball has undergone some major shake-ups. However, that doesn’t stop the national bracketologists from trying to predict how March Madness will be laid out, and it’s just about time to start paying attention. So here’s where things stand right now:
First, let’s hash out where UNC stands in terms of the computer models used by the selection committee: Kenpom, Sagarin, and ESPN’s BPI. RPI is only used to identify quality of wins and losses, not to determine an individual team’s quality. In those, UNC does pretty well: All three have UNC as the 7th-ranked team in the country, which of course lines up with a #2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. UNC’s #1 Strength of Schedule (per BPI) does it a lot of favors, as they have played 18 games against Quadrant 1 and Quadrant 2 teams with a 12-6 record in those games.
Other computer models, though, are not quite as kind. According to bracketmatrix.com, 107 different bracketology models give UNC an average 2.43 rating, which you would think correlates to a #2 seed, but actually puts them in 9th place, where the strongest 3-seed resides. Following the rest of Bracket Matrix’s list, this would place them in either Virginia’s or Villanova’s bracket (both unanimous #1 seeds with virtually identical resumes) with Purdue as their #2 seed. As an aside, there are currently 6 teams - Auburn, Michigan State, Purdue, UNC, Texas Tech, and Cincinnati - with an average seed between 2 and 3. This is going to be tight.
As for actual attempts to predict the bracket, here’s Joe Lunardi’s latest, as of February 19. He has UNC as a #3 seed in the West, with Kansas as the #1 seed (of course) and Kentucky as the #6 seed, setting up a potential UNC/Kentucky matchup in the Round of 32. This would be played in Nashville. Nashville is about 200 miles from Lexington, Kentucky, and about 500 miles from Chapel Hill, North Carolina. This... does not seem like the kind of treatment a higher seed should be getting. Michigan State would be the #2 seed in this bracket, creating a region absolutely stacked with college basketball powers.
Chris Dobbertean of SBNation.com provided us with an update on February 16th after a round of upsets shook up the rankings, and while it has some good information, after this weekend it’s already obsolete: Auburn lost to Kenpom #83 South Carolina on Saturday, temporarily disqualifying them from a #1 seed. Cincinnati lost to Wichita State on Sunday, pushing them down past teams that didn’t lose. Texas Tech lost to Kenpom #30 Baylor, which dampens their hopes. Again, the margin among most of the 2 and 3 seeds is razor-thin right now. Last Friday, Dobbertean had UNC as the 10th overall seed, and, like Lunardi, as a 3 seed in the West (though he, mercifully, had UNC playing in Charlotte). After this past weekend, though, I think it’s fair to say UNC might have moved up a couple of spots, maybe to the 2 line.
Jerry Palm of CBS Sports updated his predicted bracket on Monday, and it features UNC as a - you guessed it - #3 seed in the West, again in Kansas’ bracket, playing, somehow, in Dallas. Palm is slightly lower on UNC than the others I’ve listed, placing them as the last #3 seed. Among the teams he has ahead of UNC is Clemson, whose resume is worse by almost every conceivable metric except for total W/L, but I digress. I assume he’ll get better in a week or so.
Consensus seems to be that UNC right now, thanks to a lot of teams in their ballpark stumbling, is a borderline 2/3 seed with a prime opportunity to solidify a 2 seed if they can maintain their composure. UNC’s got a tough remaining schedule, but taking care of business for the rest of the regular season and having a respectable tournament could very possibly net them a 2 seed and a favorable first weekend location. Things are looking good for the Heels in the last few weeks of the regular season.