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THB Bracketology Watch: Week of 2/28

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Don’t look now, but UNC is sneaking up the ranks as the regular season comes to an end

NCAA Basketball: Duke at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Well, just in case you thought you knew what was going on, Virginia Tech continued their giant-killing ways with a win over Duke, throwing more uncertainty into the equation near the top. UNC followed that up with a heartbreaker to Miami. Recently, we’ve been talking about what UNC needs to do to secure Charlotte over Duke. Now, with the two teams gearing up for a head-to-head, it seems pretty clear how that’s going to be decided.

Not much has changed since last week as far as the big-name computer rankings go. UNC is still #7 in Kenpom and Sagarin rankings (pre-Miami game), and actually dropped a spot in ESPN’s BPI rankings to #8. I suppose that’s what you expect after a relatively quiet week and a big weekend for previously #8 Kansas. The seeding implications of these rankings haven’t changed either, still profiling UNC as a mid-2 seed. It’s worth noting that ESPN lists UNC’s Strength of Record, which looks at a team’s W/L resume as opposed to the team’s play within games, at #5, projecting them to be the top 2 seed. KPI, which I forgot to mention last week, also ranks UNC 5th. The NCAA’s RPI Archive documents summarize this well. Here’s UNC’s as of February 26th:

RPI itself is awful and I refuse to mention it. Worth noting here that the average of RPI and the other bracket metrics gives UNC about a 6 seed.
NCAA.org

Where UNC has improved is across the rest of the college basketball computing world. BracketMatrix, as of 8:15 PM on Monday night, has UNC as an average 2.08 seed, 6th in the country, up from 2.43 and 9th a week ago. Some readers will note that this is before Duke’s loss to Virginia Tech. Duke is 5th in that BM list, with an average seed of 1.87. I don’t think it’s a stretch to imagine that a few of those metrics might have changed since then, again putting UNC at the edge of the 1/2 line with a visit to Durham and the ACC Tournament still to come. It must be said that this is all contingent on a win versus Miami on Senior Night, which is far from guaranteed, but UNC finds itself in pretty good position.

On to a few key bracket predictions. Joe Lunardi at ESPN put out a doozy on Monday, particularly as far as UNC is concerned. UNC has moved up to a 2 seed in the West, but the good news ends about there. UNC still plays in Nashville to start this bracket off, but the real story of this bracket is who’s in it. Kansas remains at #1, and then seeds 3-8 are as follows: Tennessee, Arizona, Gonzaga, Nevada, Houston, and Butler. That’s 8 teams in Kenpom’s top 25. And unlike the brutal South region that UNC managed to mostly avoid by virtue of being a 1 seed last year, this projection finds the Heels right in the thick of it.

SBNation’s Chris Dobbertean is a little more interested in competitive balance; he stated an interest on February 23rd of keeping the sums of the overall seeds among the top four in each region within 5 points of each other. His bracket projection from the 27th moves UNC officially to the 2 line, and, being one of few projections that has now taken Duke’s loss into account, is a bit kinder to the Heels than Lunardi was. He has them in the East, with Villanova taking the #1 spot. Spots 3-7 are still stacked, but not nearly as much as Lunardi’s West, and certainly not as concentrated, either. Add that UNC starts out playing in Charlotte in this projection, and I’m definitely on board.

Jerry Palm also has UNC playing in Charlotte as a 2 seed in Villanova’s region, which is a huge leap from the 3 seed playing in Dallas he projected a week ago. UNC is now his top 2 seed as well, despite not doing much of anything. I guess he just saw the errors of his ways, and not a moment too soon. His bracket is also quite kind to the Heels until after the Sweet 16. The tides are starting to turn for UNC in terms of bracket respect, and we can only hope that the NCAA sees it the same way.

This time last week, UNC was on the 3/2 line. This week, they’ve moved up significantly, so that even after the Miami loss. One game left in the regular season, and it’s a doozy, both in terms of bracket seeding and, of course, because it’s Duke. I’m not going to lie, this article was going to be about how UNC could grab a #1 seed if they took care of business against Miami and Duke, but after last night’s result, that’s obviously out of the equation for now. Charlotte is still very much in play, though, and while Carolina fans will be invested in the Duke game for reasons that have nothing to do with the NCAA Tournament, that’s something to keep in mind. After that, it’s the postseason, and all bets are off. But right now, focus is on Duke, and, as always, just win, baby.