The beginning of April also means the end of the “winter sports” season in college athletics. North Carolina’s run in the Men’s Basketball Tournament was the marquee moment for Tar Heel athletics in the winter season, and has also helped the athletic program to a current fifth place standing in the Learfield Directors Cup.
The Directors Cup is a competition that attempts to measure what the best athletic program is every year, by awarding points corresponding with every team’s national finish in every different sport. The men’s basketball run, women’s basketball going to the Sweet 16, and a 14th place finish at the women’s swimming championship led the way in a solid winter season for UNC athletics. Fifth place is one spot higher than the Tar Heels were after the fall sports season. At 702 points, they’re about 300 behind current leader Michigan. For reference, winning a national championship in a sport gets a program 100 points.
UNC won the first ever time the Directors Cup was awarded in 1993-94, but hasn’t managed to top the standings since. Last year, they were fourth after a field hockey national championship and a couple other good seasons from various teams. They’re finished second a couple times, with the most recent coming in 2008-09. With some of the spring sports that will be crowning champions over the next couple months, Carolina could find themselves putting up one of their better finishes in recent years.
One upcoming championship that could see UNC make a deep run and maybe even win a national title is women’s lacrosse. So far this year, the Tar Heels are 17-0 and one ACC Tournament Championship game win over Boston College on Saturday away from going into NCAAs undefeated. A win there and it seems likely that they would be the top seed in the NCAA Tournament, which is set to start May 13th and conclude in Baltimore in the championship game on May 29th.
Speaking of teams getting the #1 overall seed in their NCAA Tournament, the Tar Heels’ women’s tennis team officially got the top spot for their tournament which is set to start this weekend. They’re set to face South Carolina State in the opening round. Their road could also feature an Elite Eight matchup against a Pepperdine team that upset them in the tournament last year.
While not quite as dominant as their women’s counterparts, the men’s tennis team could also put in a deep run in their championship. The men’s tennis tournament field was announced last night, and the Tar Heels are in as the #15 overall seed in the 64-team bracket. They’re set to play Navy this weekend and, if seeds hold, could face off against the #2 seed Florida in the round of 16.
As for men’s lacrosse, they seem to be a bit closer to the bubble in their particular tournament. The latest Top 20 poll has them at #19, which would be right on the edge of the 18-team bracket. It’s probably going to be a close call when that field gets announced this weekend.
Baseball and softball are both struggling a bit this year. While they still could make their tournament fields, they’re both probably going to have to go on big runs in the coming weeks.
The other spring sports which UNC will field teams in are track & field and women’s rowing, although no Tar Heel teams appear to be ranked and serious threats.
Now, will seriously contend to win the Directors Cup? That seems a bit unlikely. As mentioned, they’re 300 points back of first. Making up that gap would require three teams to win national championships even if current #1 Michigan were to somehow completely strikeout in every spring sport. However could they make top last year’s finish and maybe contend for #2 for the first time in nearly 15 years? Possibly.