The almost-unanimous top-ranked team in the preseason may have a little tougher of a path to ultimately live up to their high expectations of a Final Four appearance and possible National Championship.
North Carolina received all but three votes for No. 1 in the AP preseason poll and all but one in the Coaches poll. After a loss to UNLV back on Nov. 26, the Tar Heels fell from their top spot and have not made it back since.
This past week, UNC drifted outside the Top 5, and is currently ranked No. 8 in the AP, and No. 7 in the Coaches poll. That has taken them, to some degree, out of the immediate discussion for one of the four top seeds.
Of course, human polls play no real bearing on a team’s NCAA Tournament seed or placement. However, it’s interesting to think about where the top-ranked team entering the season will land in regards to their seed.
As of now, UNC would appear to be locked into a No. 2 seed after their loss at home to Duke last week. That loss puts UNC just behind Duke in the chase for a top seed.
While both teams hold identical overall records (21-4) and conference records (8-2) entering Wednesday night’s action, Duke currently holds the head-to-head advantage, for now. Duke also has a stronger out-of-conference profile, which include wins over Michigan and Kansas.
Both teams beat Michigan State—likely No. 2 seed as well right now—back in November on a neutral court. Each also lost to Florida State—the other team involved in a three-way tie atop the ACC at 8-2.
Right now, there are two teams—Kentucky and Syracuse—firmly locked into No. 1 seeds. With less than four weeks until Selection Sunday, there appear to be six other teams battling for the other top seeds: UNC, Duke, Michigan State, Ohio State, Missouri and Kansas. Baylor should no longer be under consideration after going 0-4 against the latter two teams in Big 12 play.
Missouri and Kansas currently have the inside track to the other two No. 1 spots. Missouri has defeated Kansas once and Baylor twice; Kansas has beaten Georgetown and Ohio State, and Baylor twice as well.
Ohio State, who crushed Duke 85-63 at home back in November, and Michigan State, are also part of the discussion for a No. 1 seed. However, the Buckeyes’ recent loss to Michigan State at home may have pushed them behind Duke, UNC and MSU in the fight for a top seed, at least for now.
What does that all mean for North Carolina’s chances to end up with a No. 1 seed? The Tar Heels will need at least a couple of things to happen.
The first should be pretty obvious—they need to beat Duke in their rematch, in Durham, on March 3. If Duke beats UNC a second time, the Heels’ chances for a No. 1 seed become almost none. However, even with a win over Duke, they still will require some help.
If the two teams were to meet again in the ACC Tournament—most likely in the championship game—UNC would have to win that as well. Losing two of three to Duke would give the Devils a solid edge in the quest for a top seed.
Missouri and Kansas Avoid a Split
Missouri and Kansas are curently tied atop the Big 12 in the loss column, with two apiece. The two will meet a second time on Feb. 25 at Kansas. Even if Missouri loses that game, the Tigers could still stay on the top line if they win all their other remaining games.
However, if Missouri beats Kansas a second time, then Kansas would likely fall to a No. 2 seed, opening things up for the Duke/UNC winner. Alternatively, if Kansas beats Mizzou in Lawrence and again in the Big 12 Tournament, then the Tigers would likely lose their spot on the No. 1 line. That would create a spot for Duke or UNC.
If UNC can beat Duke in Durham and then win the ACC Tournament, they would have a good shot at beating out Kansas or Missouri for the final No. 1 seed.
Take Care of Business
Of course, all of this speculation assumes one other critical thing: UNC wins the other remaining regular season games on their schedule. With some of their upcoming road games—Miami, NC State and Virginia—that will not be easy.
All three of the teams mentioned above are battling to secure NCAA Tournament spots. NC State and Miami are still holding onto chances of challenging for the league’s top spots. For each, beating UNC would be a great way to make a move in that race.
One thing is for sure—if North Carolina gets a No. 1 seed, they will have definitely earned it.