Five seasons ago, the Tar Heels were a number one seed, and the discussion around the team wasn’t just about their chances to win the National Title. It was also about the path they would take to get there, and the sites at which they would play.
That season, there weren’t any sites in North Carolina, and thanks to strong seasons by eventual national Champion Virginia and Tennessee, they were bypassed for the closest site in Columbia, South Carolina and slated to play in Columbus, Ohio. You may remember that Tar Heel Blog’s Brandon and Tanya Anderson travelled to Columbus and collected stories of the unique connection of UNC and Ohio.
Since then, as we all know, it’s been more about just making the NCAA Tournament, not necessarily picking their spot. It hasn’t helped that you had the Indianapolis Bubble of 2021 and then barely landed into a spot in 2022. Now, though, with a 5-0 start in the ACC and all of the metrics supporting Carolina being one of the top teams in the country, fans can start to dream about the “best” place to play.
First, a quick reminder about how this all works. In the first and second rounds, the top four seeds in each region are assigned into four-team pods at a location closest to their campus. Each site has two pods, thus it’s possible for two higher seeds to go to a nearby site and another team to have to go to the next closest place—exactly what happened to Carolina in 2019. The same thought process, to an extent, works when setting up the regions to which teams are assigned, along with trying to match up the strongest one-seed with the worst four, and so on.
Basically, you want to be a high seed to get your pick of both locations before the Final Four, which will be in a familiar place to Carolina fans—Glendale, Arizona. Glendale treated Carolina well in 2017, so it would be fun to go back.
So where exactly are the other sites?
NCAA First and Second Round locations
- Thursday, March 21 and Saturday, March 22
Charlotte, NC; Omaha, NE; Pittsburgh, PA; Salt Lake City, UT
- Friday, March 22 and Sunday, March 24
Brooklyn, NY; Indianapolis, IN; Spokane, WA; Memphis, TN
NCAA Sweet 16/Elite 8 locations
- Thursday, March 28 and Friday, March 30
East - Boston, MA; Midwest - Detroit, MI;
- Friday, March 29 and Sunday, March 31
South - Dallas, TX; West - Los Angeles, CA
There’s a lot to unpack here.
Obviously, the Tar Heels are going to be aiming for Charlotte. The Tar Heels haven’t played an NCAA game in the state of North Carolina since 2018—which didn’t go well. Still, there’s a huge advantage to playing in Charlotte—just ask Michigan last year and Oklahoma this year—and being placed there also would mean the Tar Heels would be a higher seed in the tournament.
Unlike in 2019, the way the sites are set up also seem to set up to help, not hurt, Carolina’s chances to end up there. The Memphis site seems destined to hold an SEC team, and Brooklyn looks to be where UConn is aiming for. There’s a long way to go, of course, but if the goal is to start the tournament in Charlotte, the Tar Heels have done what they’ve needed to do so far in order for that to happen.
For the Sweet 16 and Elite 8, though, there’s no site for the Tar Heels that’s really an obvious destination. By mileage, the Midwest Region in Detroit is actually the closest. Boston is technically in ACC territory, and from experience I can tell you Tar Heel fans will show up. The Dallas area has good memories from their 2022 upset of Baylor, and would be the third furthest option. LA is LA, which would be a long way from home but fans will show up.
While there are Bracketology projections out there, it’s still way too early to try and have a true idea of what Carolina “needs” to do to end up in their desired location. However, the NCAA has their annual top 16 reveal set for Saturday, February 17 at 12:30 on CBS. From there, we’ll know what the committee thinks of the Tar Heels so far and what they have left to be able to pick their location. Selection Sunday this year is one month later than last year, on Sunday, March 17th, and hopefully this one will be more familiar to Carolina fans—seeing where they are going instead of wondering if they are in at all.