The state of North Carolina could make history in this year’s NCAA Tournament — and not in a good way.
For the past 43 years, North Carolina has sent multiple teams to the Big Dance, and in the last 29 tournaments, the state has sent at least three teams 28 times.
Over the last decade, N.C. has averaged 4.20 NCAA bids a year. Since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, it has averaged 4.17. It’s been a long history of postseason success in March for Tobacco Road, but that streak could be down to its last few puffs. It may be time to smoke ’em if you got ’em.
With three months until Selection Sunday, there’s a very real possibility that North Carolina may have just one representative in March Madness. That would be the first time since 1976, the second year that the tournament started allowing multiple teams from the same conference to get bids, that there’s been just a single representative.
Barring some upsets in conference tournaments, North Carolina seems to have a ceiling of two teams this year, which would be a first since 2010 and just the third time since 1982.
Here’s a look at the bleak March projections for the Old North State.
Duke (15-1, 5-0 ACC, No. 3 in NET rankings, No. 1 in KenPom): The Blue Devils have made it through the first quarter of the expanded 20-game ACC schedule without a loss and have won three of the games by 30-plus points. Duke is on pace for a one seed and should be a title contender in a wide-open year.
Odds: 100 percent
NC State (11-5, 2-3 ACC, 55 NET, 50 KenPom): Of course, NC State is on the bubble. It’s where the Wolfpack lives. State has a win over Quadrant I Wisconsin but has lost two of its last three. The next couple weeks could be critical for the Pack. State should be favored in four of its next five.
North Carolina (8-8, 1-4 ACC, 116 NET, 83 KenPom): The Tar Heels could have been heading to the bubble at 6-3, laying eggs against Michigan, Ohio State and Virginia. Then point guard Cole Anthony suffered a knee injury and the roof caved in. UNC has lost five of seven without him, including a 1-4 mark at home over that span. If Anthony returns (he’s expected back in just over a week) at the same level as before and UNC rallies, the selection committee could give the Tar Heels a pass for the rough patch without him. Still, the Heels need to rebuild their confidence and make a run.
Davidson (7-8, 1-2 A-10, 113 NET, 93 KenPom): Not as high-profile but just as big a surprise as the Tar Heels’ meltdown is Davidson’s rough season. Experienced, with two of the top players in the nation, the Wildcats were expected to win the Atlantic 10 and secure a high NCAA bid. Davidson has lost just about every game against a high-profile opponent and needs to make a run before hitting “must win conference tourney” status.
NC A&T (7-11, 3-0 MEAC, 255 NET, 293 KenPom): The Aggies still have to play fellow 3-0 MEAC team Norfolk State and will also need to win the conference tournament to get a bid.
Charlotte (9-5, 3-0 CUSA, 147 NET, 166 KenPom): Charlotte could be in line for an at-large bid if it wins the CUSA regular season, but with games remaining against all the 3-1 teams, including Western Kentucky, FAU, North Texas and Louisiana Tech, there’s a long way to go before wrapping that up.
Western Carolina (12-3, 4-0 Southern, 104 NET, 152 KenPom): The Catamounts are alone atop the Southern but likely need to win the conference tourney to get in. Odds: 24-to-1
Must win conference tournament
UNC Greensboro: 13-5, 3-2 Southern, 77 NET, 79 KenPom
Wake Forest: 8-7, 1-4 ACC, 105 NET, 100 KenPom
Appalachian State: 7-9, 9-9 ACC, 3-4 Sun Belt, 187 NET, 192 KenPom
UNC Asheville: 7-7, 1-2 Big South, 190 NET, 233 KenPom
East Carolina: 8-8, 2-1 AAC, 218 NET, 229 KenPom
Campbell: 10-6, 1-3 Big South, 240 NET, 216 KenPom
Gardner-Webb: 5-11, 1-3 Big South, 284 NET, 246 KenPom
NC Central: 6-11, 2-1 MEAC, 311 NET, 311 KenPom
Elon: 5-13, 1-4 CAA, 330 NET, 306 KenPom
UNC Wilmington: 5-14, 0-6 CAA, 334 NET, 333 KenPom
High Point: 3-13, 0-3 Big South: 346 NET, 345 KenPom