Heading into the North Carolina Tar Heels’ women’s basketball game on February 5th, the Tar Heels sat at 16-6 and looked prime for a first-round bye and a potential at-large bid in the women’s NCAA Tournament.
Fast forward to today and they haven’t won a game since, bursting their bubble for getting an at-large bid and even a first round bye in the ACC Tournament. Instead, the women’s team will find themselves likely in the same position as the men: Playing in the opening day of the ACC Tournament in Greensboro.
What’s gone wrong for the Tar Heels, you ask? It’s been a mixture of a tougher schedule and a key injury to leading scorer and rebounder Janelle Bailey. Bailey missed the last three games of the season for the Tar Heels, and she will be a game-time decision when the team tips off in the first round on Wednesday.
The struggles down the stretch left the Tar Heels as the 12th seed in the tournament
As to who the Tar Heels will play on Wednesday, it will be a team they just played, and lost to without Bailey, in Wake Forest. The teams only played once in the regular season, which resulted in a Wake Forest 82-79 win in overtime.
A lot of what the Tar Heels could do in Greensboro will rely on the health of Bailey. Her 15 points and 9.5 rebounds per game will be a huge addition to the lineup of a team that so desperately needs a boost in the right direction.
Should the Tar Heels get past Wake, they will be looking at a matchup with Virginia Tech on Thursday. North Carolina and the Hokies squared off twice this year, with Virginia Tech coming out on top both times. But the games were both close, decided by single digits both times.
A run to getting an at-large bid for this team is extremely unlikely. They aren’t on the bubble according ESPN’s latest women’s bracketology. And on top of that, they really only have one great win, that coming against NC State.
Even if the team doesn’t make a deep run, this will be a great experience for first-year head coach Courtney Banghart, who will be experiencing her first ACC Tournament this week. And for a team that has several key players who could return next year, gaining valuable tournament experience will be a nice positive.
While this year is still ongoing, these final few games will be a great learning experience for a program that is looking to re-establish itself among one of the best in the conference, and a great learning experience for a coach who’s got the program looking up in her first season.