With a 71-67 loss to the Boston College Eagles on Feb. 20—their ninth in 11 games—the North Carolina Tar Heels guaranteed that they would finish the season with a losing ACC record for the first time since 2002.
Now, UNC’s one and only chance of making it to the NCAA Tournament lies in an automatic bid by winning the ACC Tournament. In all likelihood, the Tar Heels will join a list of defending national champions—which currently consists of 18 teams—who have failed to earn a bid to the Big Dance and participate in March Madness.
While the addition to this undesirable list may put a blemish in the program’s history, the more substantial disgrace may occur should the Heels lose the remaining games in their conference schedule and finish with a 14-18 overall record.
Though such a hypothetical finish may not mount to the worst Division I record numerically—that (dis)honor goes to the 0-29 New Jersey Institute of Technology Highlanders of 2007-08—the Heels could surpass this shameful statistic in terms of context.
UNC indisputably boasts a much longer, victorious legacy of excellence and achievements. Thus, it is incomprehensible to compare the likes of NJIT and teams who share the Highlanders’ winless fate—Prairie View A&M, Savannah State, and UNC-Pembroke—to the Tar Heels. However, it is because of their legacy and distinguished accomplishments that this year’s team from the nation’s first public university could forever wear the “worst” label at the season’s conclusion.
North Carolina's record now stands at 14-13, 3-9 ACC. Their hopes of a postseason hinge on one seemingly precarious and insurmountable scenario as aforementioned, but the Heels may not make it to the NIT either because they are currently on the bubble of seeing action at Madison Square Garden.
Since 2006, NIT selection no longer requires a .500 or greater record; however, all participating teams, to date, have had a record of at least .500.
Teams that won regular season conference championships but failed to win an NCAA tournament bid are guaranteed a NIT slot.
The Tar Heels’ flirtation with the .500 or better record has increased with each loss and have jeopardized their chances at NIT participation given the fact UNC’s name recognition will attract a larger audience, generate revenue, and give the school an advantage in the NIT selection process.
Still, if North Carolina is designated as the worst defending champion of all-time, then their storied name may not serve as enough clout for NIT inclusion.
Instead, the Heels may find themselves the headliners of the largely unknown College Basketball Invitational, a 16-team postseason tournament that has only existed for two years.