North Carolina Basketball: Breaking Down Tar Heels' Chances to Reach Big Dance
North Carolina basketball has a long history of deep runs in the NCAA tournament and national championships. It is also only three years removed from missing the Big Dance.
And nobody is forgetting it.
From the moment UNC lost Tyler Zeller, Kendall Marshall, Harrison Barnes and John Henson to the NBA, rival fans have pounced on the opportunity to predict another NIT season for the Tar Heels. Even fans of the storied program have joined in on the NIT chants.
The team's rough 12-5 start to the season has done nothing to calm the storm, either.
But are the Tar Heels really facing the possibility of missing the tourney? A possibility, yes. But it isn't as likely as some make it out to be.
Read on, as I break down what it will take for the Tar Heels to join the March Madness.
The Science Behind Selection
Cartoon by Drew Litton, courtesy of DrewLitton.com
On March 17, the 10-member selection committee will finalize and release the names of the 68 programs that will participate in the 2013 NCAA tournament. With an exact science behind the selection, and no bias at all, everyone is always happy with what teams are picked to play.
There is actually very little science involved, and the committee consists of conference commissioners and athletic directors. It's hard to imagine no bias is involved with the selections.
It's a matter of personal preference that the committee members will use to come up with their selections. Most people tend to think the biggest factor is in the RPI (Rating Percentage Index) Rankings.
That would only make sense, as it works in a similar fashion as the BCS Poll in football. The value of wins and losses are weighed by the caliber of opponent a team faces. Simply put, wins over good teams are valued more than wins over bad teams.
It isn't a science, and it certainly isn't flawless.
But it's between computers (BCS) and the human element, so there isn't exactly a perfect solution. As fans of the game, that's something we just have to deal with. The college system—in both football and basketball—will never please everyone.
For those of you looking for more detail, the NCAA released a complete breakdown of the selection process in 2012.
Where Does UNC Stand Today?
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If the committee were selecting today, there would be a good chance for North Carolina to slip in. Even though it isn't ranked in the AP Top 25, UNC is sitting at No. 36 in the RPI Rankings.
Unfortunately for the Tar Heels, Selection Sunday is two months, 14 conference games and an ACC tourney away.
Since winning its last two games over Florida State and Maryland, UNC found its way into the brackets of both experts. Palm has Carolina seeded No. 11 and on the bubble, while Lunardi has them entering the tourney as a No. 9 seed.
So far, it's looking positive for North Carolina. But it's still just a couple bad losses away from being dropped.
UNC's Must-Win Games
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Besides winning championships, nothing makes a UNC fan happier than watching their team beat Duke on the hardwood. This season, it will mean even more.
North Carolina must beat Duke in 2013.
The Blue Devils are currently ranked No. 1 in the RPI Rankings, the AP Top 25 and the USA Today Coaches Poll. Even if Duke drops in the polls, it'll probably still be the highest-ranked ACC team on Feb. 13 when the two rivals meet at Cameron.
A win in Durham would give the Tar Heels a hefty boost in RPI.
That isn't the only game that matters, though. Carolina still has another game with Miami (No. 4, RPI), two with NC State (No. 14) and will finish out the regular season against Duke (No. 1) in the Dean Dome.
Depending on how it plays against the other teams in the conference, UNC may have to manage a split with those three teams.
What's the Magic Number?
I asked Count von Count, and he couldn't help either.
There is no accurate way of predicting how many wins North Carolina will need this season to reach the tourney. Therefore, I can't give you a "magic number."
When the Tar Heels missed the tournament in 2010, they had a record of 16-15 at the end of the regular season. What doomed that team was their 5-11 record in the ACC. In Roy's first season, UNC finished 18-9, but it was 8-8 in the conference.
That team made the 2004 NCAA tournament.
Could UNC make it in 2013 with a .500 record in the ACC? Probably not.
My guess is it will have to win at least 10 games in the conference. That means the Tar Heels will have to go 8-6 in this final stretch.
That shouldn't be too difficult for this team to manage.
The Last Resort
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North Carolina has played in the title game of the ACC tournament the last two years, coming up empty on both occasions. It hasn't won the tourney since going back-to-back in 2007 and 2008.
If all else fails, an ACC tournament title will get the Tar Heels in.
30 automatic bids are handed to the conference tourney champs. Last season, Western Kentucky was 11-18 (7-9 Sun Belt). But it won the conference tournament and got to be a part of March Madness.
No matter how the Tar Heels finish out the regular season, they will have one final shot with the 2013 ACC tournament.
It's as simple as that.