North Carolina is closing out the regular season with the frustrating inconsistency typical of teams that generally play in the NCAA tournament’s 8-9 seed game. Capable of being world-beaters, like the Tar Heels’ 78-70 win over Florida State. Or capable of bowing out in the most maddening way possible, like their turnover-filled 72-70 loss at Syracuse Monday.
The Heels (15-9, 9-6 ACC) have gone 4-4 in their last eight games, unable to carry over momentum or their positive play from one game to the next. Heading into the regular-season finale against Duke, the reality is this is who they are.
Whether that will be enough to muster an NCAA tournament bid is unclear. For now, it appears the Heels are in, but they certainly aren’t so solid they don’t have more work to do.
“We need to get this last one versus Duke and then go on to the ACC tournament with our heads high and be ready to play,” UNC freshman guard Caleb Love said after their loss to the Orange. “Because from now on, it’s win or go home for us.”
Here’s a look at UNC’s NCAA tournament case:
Carolina fell from No. 41 down to 45 in the NCAA Evaluation Tool, better known as the NET, after Monday’s loss to the Orange. That falls in at sixth place among ACC teams.
Florida State is the highest ranked at No. 14. The Heels lost to three of the teams ahead of them in Virginia (20 NET), Clemson (33), Georgia Tech (41) and had their game against Virginia Tech (44) canceled.
For what it’s worth, UNC is No. 33 according to the metrics at Kenpom.com. With 32 conferences slated for automatic bids, the NCAA selects 36 at-large teams.
Carolina secured just its second Quad 1 win of the season with Saturday’s comeback victory against Florida State. But it still dropped to 2-8 in Quad 1 games.
And it’s not that Monday’s loss to Syracuse counted twice, it’s that N.C. State moved up. With the Wolfpack rising three spots from 78 to 75 in the NET, that makes UNC’s loss at PNC Arena qualify as a Quad 1 loss.
Quad 1 opponents are classified based on where the game takes place. In home games, a Quad 1 opponent has to have a top 30 NET; in neutral site games it’s top 50 NET; and in road games it’s top 75 NET.
That means the Heels’ home win over the Pack would only register as a Quad 1 win if the Pack was ranked in the top 30.
The Heels are still holding firm in the minds of many predicting tournament brackets. They remained on 115 out of 116 brackets on Bracketmatrix.com as of Tuesday morning. UNC’s average seed is trending more toward being tenth a week after it was closer to ninth.
ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has Carolina as a No. 10 seed. CBSSports.com’s Jerry Palm had the Heels as one of the last four in as a No. 11 seed playing the opening round of the tournament in the First Four.
Duke (No. 58 NET) qualifies as a Quad 2 game for UNC. (For the Blue Devils, the Heels represent a Quad 1 opportunity.) So for Carolina beating its rival and getting the second regular season sweep in the past three seasons would be more of a confidence booster than a resume one.
Still, it falls into a game the Heels can’t afford to lose in terms of being on solid ground for the NCAA tournament. A loss to Duke would likely mean UNC has to win a game or two in the ACC tournament next week to ensure its name is called on Selection Sunday on March 14.
Duke at North Carolina
When: 6 p.m., Saturday
Where: Smith Center, Chapel Hill