Can North Carolina Win the NCAA Tournament? Tar Heels March Madness Odds Breakdown for 2021
There’s an old saying among those who follow basketball in North Carolina that is so popular that they stick it on T-shirts: If God isn’t tar heel, why is heaven Carolina Blue?
Given the 2020-21 season, which leads to this question: If God is a tar heel, why is Carolina 15-9?
MORE: March Madness Replacement Rules Explained
The team, which have won three NCAA championships since 2005, have had unusual struggles over the past two seasons, but at least this year’s edition is moving towards an NCAA berth. Last year’s team would have missed the NCAAs if the tournament hadn’t been canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Can North Carolina Win the NCAA Tournament?
The more important question might be: Can’t North Carolina make the tournament? The Tar Heels are number 10 in the Projected Field of 68, compiled by Ryan Fagan of Sporting News. Since his bracket is designed in this way, there are at least seven teams behind the tar heels. It’s hard to lag behind so many teams in such a short amount of time – especially when most of those teams have an even harder time winning games than the heels.
However, to be on the positive side, the Heels would be pretty close to bidding if they could beat Duke in their end-of-season rivalry game at 6pm on ESPN on Saturday.
That would bring the heels together to 16-9 with a 9-8 record against quads 1 and 2. Bubble teams like Boise State, Xavier, Colorado State, and Memphis all have fewer wins in this category.
North Carolina and the ACC tournament
The Tar Heels start with a 9: 6 record in the ACC on the sixth place in the ACC, but lose the tiebreaker with Clemson as number 6 in the ACC tournament as things stand today. That tiebreaker included Clemson’s head-to-head win over the heels so nothing can change if they are still tied after the final games of the regular season.
However, the Tar Heels could defeat the Blue Devils while Clemson loses his season finale to a 500 Pitt team.
There are still scenarios where Carolina could show up as seed # 4 or seed # 5, although the heels would require some significant glitch. The most likely scenario seems to be number 6, with favorites Georgia Tech, Virginia and Clemson winning their final games.
In 6th place, the Heels played a first round game against the winner between teams # 11 and # 14, currently Boston College and Notre Dame. A win would come with a quarterfinal game against number 3, currently Virginia Tech, whose COVID-19 hiatus began after beating Wake Forest on Feb.27 and this week wiped out Louisville and NC State games.
North Carolina’s remaining schedule
The biggest rivalry in American sport – North Carolina versus Duke – isn’t enjoying one of the typically glamorous seasons. In some ways, however, there is more at stake than ever before.
North Carolina has never had a double-digit starting number in the NCAA tournament. The lowest seeds since the NCAA began using this device in 1979 were 1990 (under Dean Smith, the heels reached the Sweet 16), 2000 (under Bill Guthridge, they reached the Final Four), and 2013 (under) Roy Williams, they advanced one lap forward).
In the game that traditionally ends the regular season for both teams, the Tar Heels and Blue Devils play on Saturday at 6 p.m. on ESPN.
No doubt the network will feel like an occasion.
North Carolina’s strength of victory
North Carolina’s biggest problem with finding an all-out case is a 2-8 record against Quad-1 opposition. When they’ve played against the best teams on their schedule – or when they have faced the toughest challenges – they have mostly lost.
Exceptions were a home win against NET No. 13 Florida State and the first meeting with the Blue Devils in early February at the Cameron Indoor Stadium.
They have a 3-6 record against teams in the projected NCAA field from Sporting News.
North Carolina’s vulnerabilities
Williams faced a gap in the schedule due to an opponent’s COVID hiatus and arranged a visit outside the league from Marquette, a talented team that dropped six in seven games in the Big East race. It was an opportunity to take a solid win – Marquette is number 90 on the NET rankings – and stay sharp with more competition.
It didn’t work out that way. Marquette controlled the game, leaving Chapel Hill with a memorable 83-70 win.
This is North Carolina’s only Quad-3 loss, but one in that category is a lot for an NCAA tournament contender.
Road losses to NC State and Syracuse are the only other losses to teams not included in the SN bracket projection, and these qualify as Quad-1 losses.
KenPom, RPI, SOS, and North Carolina Quadrants
– KenPom: Carolina is number 32 in the latest KenPom ranking.
– RPI: Carolina ranks 38th in the latest RPI ranking.
– Strength of the Schedule: Carolina is # 28 on the latest SOS rankings and 35 on the strength of the record.
– Quadrants: Carolina is 2-8 in Quadrant 1 games, 8-8 against Quads 1 and 2 combined. The heels have a loss in quad 3.
How North Carolina does March Madness
The tar heels really don’t have that much work to do in the purest sense. Win a home game against a team that is a single game over 500? Win on a neutral pitch against a team with a loss? That’s all it takes North Carolina to convince itself of a bid.
With a few minor changes to the language, it becomes a lot more difficult. The Tar Heels must stand up to their fiercest rivals to score a season sweep, and they must do it against a team that is desperately in need of success to stay in the NCAA chase. Then they will have to go into the ACC tournament and most likely defeat an opponent who has already ruined Pitt’s postseason aspirations and damaged Duke’s NCAA tournament case.
It may not be that simple after all, but there are many Division I programs – including some whose traditions are among the greatest in the game – that would eagerly embrace the heel swap opportunity.