NCAA Tournament rooting guide for UNC basketball fans

The North Carolina Tar Heels aren’t dancing this year, becoming the first preseason No. 1 team to miss the NCAA Tournament since the field expanded to 64 in 1985. After a disappointing year in which the Tar Heels were the third team out of the field, they turned down the NIT and ended their season on Sunday.

While UNC is not in the field this year, Tar Heels fans are looking for some rooting interests as March Madness tips off its slate of games on Thursday.

But outside of your bracket picks, which teams should you be rooting for this year? We decided to put together a list of teams that intrigue us the most to root for this tournament.

Take a look at our list of teams you should be rooting against and for below:

Anybody but Duke

Feb 15, 2022; Durham, North Carolina, USA; Duke Blue Devils associate head coach Jon Scheyer gestures during the second half against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons at Cameron Indoor Stadium. The Blue Devils won 76-74. Mandatory Credit: Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

This one is easy. It’s obvious. It’s anybody but Duke. When it comes down to it, North Carolina fans don’t wan’t Duke winning the title. UNC was able to end Duke’s season and Coach K’s career last year in the Final Four.

But this year, things are different.

UNC is out of the tournament and Duke appears to be hitting its stride as a No. 5 seed after winning the ACC Tournament. Duke has a favorable path in their region and UNC fans hope they don’t land another title.


NOT NC State

Feb 19, 2023; Raleigh, North Carolina, USA; North Carolina State Wolfpack guard Jarkel Joiner (1) dribbles during the first half of the game against North Carolina Tar Heels at PNC Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jaylynn Nash-USA TODAY Sports

Apparently it feels like ’83 for the Wolfpack. They split the season series with North Carolina, getting a big win at home late in the season to really dent the Tar Heels’ chances. They even made shirts about it.

NC State’s stock dropped after a rocky end to the season but they avoided Dayton even as a No. 11 seed. The Wolfpack haven’t won an NCAA Tournament game sine 2015.

Let’s keep it that way.

NOT Creighton

This one is simple. UNC fans won’t forget what happened in the 2012 NCAA Tournament when the two teams met in the second round.

North Carolina won the game 87-73 but it was what Creighton did during the game that UNC fans will never forget. With UNC in control, point guard Kendall Marshall took a hard fall on a layup, getting fouled and landing awkwardly on his wrist. He ended up breaking bones in his right hand, sidelining him for the rest of the tournament.

The foul was a hard one and from one angle, it looked like Marshall was shoved to the ground. That wasn’t all.

Creighton’s Gregory Echenique had a cheap shot on Tyler Zeller during a rebound:

Throughout the game, Creighton players were slapping at John Henson’s injured wrist which was taped up. Henson returned for this game, putting together a big performance but felt the pain:

What really irritates UNC fans is that Creighton’s Grant Gibbs was caught winking after slapping Henson’s hand hard.

Marshall never returned and Henson played hurt the rest of the tournament as UNC fell to Kansas in the Elite 8. Many believe Creighton cost the Tar Heels a legit title shot and rematch with eventual champion Kentucky.


NOT Kentucky

Dec 31, 2022; Lexington, Kentucky, USA; Kentucky Wildcats head coach John Calipari claps during the first half against the Louisville Cardinals at Rupp Arena at Central Bank Center. Mandatory Credit: Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports

Speaking of Kentucky. This is another obvious one. While this isn’t really a ‘rivalry’, the two fan bases do not like each other. There was a chance for UNC to face off against Kentucky last year as they were in the same region but the Wildcats lost in the first round to St. Peter’s, a team UNC crushed to get to the Final Four.

Plus, it’s always fun to see a frustrated John Calipari.


Root for.... Penn State

Mar 11, 2023; Chicago, IL, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions guard Jalen Pickett (22) reacts during the second half of a basketball game against the Indiana Hoosiers at United Center. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

A scrappy underdog team that is one of the hottest teams coming into the tournament, Penn State survived the bubble and did it with a few last-second wins. They’ve had a big turnaround going 14-17 just a season ago. They also have one of the best players in the country in Jalen Pickett.

Penn State hasn’t been to the tournament since 2011 and is a fun team to root for.

For more on Penn State, check out NittanyLionsWire.

Root for Purdue

Purdue Boilermakers center Zach Edey (15) shoots a free throw during the second half of the Big Ten championship title game Sunday, March 13, 2022, at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. Iowa won, 75-66.
Iowa Hawkeyes Versus Purdue Boilermakers In Big Ten Men S Championship Title Game On Sunday March 13 2022 At Gainbridge Fieldhouse In Indianapolis

The Boilermakers are a No. 1 seed, so they really aren’t an underdog. However, they have had their struggles in the tournament over the years including a heart-breaking loss to Virginia to get to the Final Four a few years ago.

Plus, Purdue is in the same region as Duke and Kentucky, so it would be fun to see them make it out.

Root for Northwestern

Mar 1, 2023; Evanston, Illinois, USA; Northwestern Wildcats guard Boo Buie (0) watches his three point basket go in against the Penn State Nittany Lions during the second half at Welsh-Ryan Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Yes, the Wildcats are coached by former Dukie Chris Collins but they are making just their second NCAA Tournament appearance of all time! The Wildcats are a fun team to watch with really good guard play.

The last time Northwestern was in the tournament, they almost upset Gonzaga in the second round. The Bulldogs survived and eventually lost to UNC in the title game.

Root for chaos


Let’s see some chaos. I’m talking multiple upsets in the first weekend. Give us all the chaos and shake things up in the tournament. Yeah, it would hurt some brackets that people do but what better way to watch the tournament than to have a bunch of upsets early on?

Give us chaos!

Root for College of Charleston

CHAPEL HILL, NORTH CAROLINA – NOVEMBER 11: R.J. Davis #4 of the North Carolina Tar Heels tips the ball away from Pat Robinson III #15 of the Charleston Cougars during the second half of their game at the Dean E. Smith Center on November 11, 2022 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. North Carolina won 102-86. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

The Cougars are a 12 seed facing off against No. 5 San Diego State and are a trendy upset pick. I mentioned rooting for chaos and this would certainly help.

Plus, North Carolina was one of three teams to beat the Cougars this season, so seeing them do well would be a little fun.

Root for Marquette and Shaka Smart

Feb 16, 2022; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA; Marquette Golden Eagles head coach Shaka Smart during the game against the Georgetown Hoyas at Fiserv Forum. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Marquette enters this tournament with a No. 2 seed and fresh off a Big East Tournament title. They sit in the same region as Duke and Kentucky, so it makes sense for them to come out of this region for UNC fans.

Shaka Smart has lost seven-straight NCAA Tournament guys including last year’s first-round matchup against UNC. He deserves a couple of runs and a deep run in this tournament.

Story originally appeared on Tarheels Wire