Every year around this time if UNC is a top 10-15 team, their record in NCAA Tournament games played in North Carolina is brought up. The Tar Heels have lost a NCAAT game played in the state since 1979. As pointed out yesterday, there are reasons beyond just getting to play close to home.
While a in-state location is in play for this year, there’s also a decent chance UNC won’t end up in Charlotte. With that in mind, let’s take a look at how past Carolina teams have done at the various cities hosting NCAA Tournament games this year.
The Tar Heels are likely behind the eight ball for getting a Charlotte spot right now, but it would behoove them to get that spot. Charlotte is a big part of UNC’s aforementioned record in tournament games played in North Carolina.
Carolina is 11-0 in tournament games in Charlotte, and the city was a pit stop on the roads to the 1982 and 2005 national championships. Four of those wins have come in the new arena: two early round games in 2011, and Sweet 16 and Elite Eight wins in 2008.
The Tar Heels have played just one tournament game in Dallas. After upsetting #1 seed Oklahoma on Rick Fox’s last second shot in 1990, UNC made it to the Sweet 16 in Dallas as a #8 seed. They went on to lose by 23 to #4 seed Arkansas.
If we count other cities in the Dallas metro area, then there are other games. In 1980, UNC lost as a #3 seed to Texas A&M in Denton, TX in the second round. If you’re superstitious, you might hope that the Tar Heels avoid Dallas.
Carolina’s lone trip to Detroit was quite memorable as it was the site of the 2009 Final Four. The games are being played in a different building this time around, as they don’t typically play the first and second rounds in football stadiums. UNC is unlikely to be sent there anyway.
At least right now, the most likely landing spot for the Heels seems to be Nashville. UNC has never actually played a tournament game there, despite the city having hosted the tournament eight previous times. The have had success in the state, winning games in Memphis just last year.
Of the other first round sites, UNC has also not played in Pittsburgh, Wichita, Boise, and San Diego.
As far as the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight sites go, the Tar Heels have some experience in a couple of them.
Some current Carolina players have experience playing a tournament game in the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Just three years ago, the Tar Heels were placed in the West Region and made the second weekend, hosted in LA. UNC lost to Wisconsin, with Joel Berry scoring nine points in 19 minutes off the bench.
North Carolina played in a pair of Final Fours in Los Angles during the heyday of the John Wooden UCLA teams. In 1968, they lost the national championship game to one of those Bruins’ teams. Four years later, they returned, but lost in the semifinal to Florida State, who went on to lose to UCLA.
Considering the amount of times the city has hosted games and the relative closeness to Chapel Hill, UNC has not played that many games in Atlanta. Their first times there ended in disappointing losses. The Tar Heels fell in the national championship game to Marquette in 1977. Seven years later, they lost in Michael Jordan’s final college game against Indiana in the Sweet 16. (We will not be mentioning a former Indiana player turned broadcaster here, as we don’t want to set off his Google Alerts.)
UNC did win first and second round games in Atlanta in 1989, but the other two trips ended sadly.
The other second weekend sites are Boston and Omaha, neither of which UNC has ever played at.
If the Tar Heels do return to the Final Four for a third consecutive year, they will be going to San Antonio, where there aren’t a ton of happy memories. Both the 1998 and 2008 runs ended with disappointing Final Four losses. If we include the AT&T Center and not just the Alamodome, then there’s even more disappointment. The second round loss to Iowa State in 2014 also happened in San Antonio.
As the sites for the first four rounds usually have some geographic preference for the best teams staying close to home, it’s not surprising that Carolina tends to do better in cities closer to Chapel Hill. That being said, it’s a new year and past results won’t have any impact on this year. If UNC wants to come close to repeating, they might have to make some new memories in somewhere like Nashville.