‘Big Dance’ could see quintet of NC women’s teams

The state has sent five teams to the NCAA Tournament just three times in history

UNC coach Courtney Banghart and guard Deja Kelly helped the Tar Heels pick up a big win Sunday by knocking off then-No. 4 Notre Dame. (Darron Cummings / AP Photo)

The NCAA has held a women’s basketball tournament since 1982, and in four decades of March Madness, the state of North Carolina has sent five or more teams to the Big Dance just three times.

Most recently, NC State, UNC, Wake Forest, High Point and NC A&T played in the 2021 tourney, with the Wolfpack advancing to the Sweet 16. Prior to that, Carolina, Duke, Charlotte, A&T and Western Carolina received bids in 2009, with the Tar Heels and Blue Devils advancing one round. Two years earlier, the state sent five to the 2007 tourney, with UNC reaching the Final Four.

There’s still plenty of regular season basketball left, not to mention the conference tournaments, but North Carolina is on pace to send a quintet dancing again in 2023. The state currently has three teams ranked in the top 25, and another two teams are unbeaten in conference play. Here’s a look at the March hopefuls from the state’s women’s basketball programs.

NC State

The Wolfpack are the top program in the state at the moment. NC State has been to five NCAA Tournaments in a row, the longest current streak in the state and third-longest in school history. Pack fans will remember the frustrating end to last season when State received a No. 1 seed but was then sent to play UConn for a berth in the Final Four in what amounted to a road game. The Huskies prevailed in double overtime.

State has been a No. 1 seed in back-to-back years, but the Pack have some work to do to get seeded as highly this season. Coach Wes Moore’s team is currently No. 11 in the top 25 at 13-3 overall and 3-2 in the ACC. The Wolfpack have suffered home losses to Duke and Boston College in the last four games. The Pack have Diamond Johnson back after the playmaker missed four games with an injury. She leads the team in scoring at 14.3 points per game, including 18.0 against ACC foes. The Pack rank among the nation’s best teams in rebounding margin and 3-point shooting. 


The Blue Devils are eyeing their first NCAA Tournament bid since 2018. Duke is currently ranked No. 16 at 14-1, and the Blue Devils are atop the ACC at 4-0. A loss to perennial power UConn is the only blemish on Duke’s resume, and Duke has responded with a nine-game winning streak since that defeat, including a 14-point win over NC State.

Duke has built its lofty record against the toughest strength of schedule in the ACC and seventh toughest in the nation. The Blue Devils are getting it done on defense, holding eight opponents to 50 points or fewer and leading the ACC in scoring defense and defensive shooting percentage. Senior Elizabeth Balogun is one of two double-digit scorers and won the national player of the week award earlier this month. The Blue Devils have a deep bench, with 10 players averaging 13 minutes a game and seven different high-scorers in games so far this season.


The Tar Heels have made three straight NCAA Tournaments and, at No. 22 in the nation, would like to extend the streak to its longest since making 10 straight from 2002 to 2011. They’ll need to snap out of a conference tailspin, however. UNC is just 1-3 in the ACC, which puts them in 13th place in the 15-team league. Overall, Carolina is 10-5 on the year.

UNC ended a four-game skid with an upset of No. 4 Notre Dame over the weekend, beating the Irish 60-50 at Carmichael Auditorium to post its first ACC win. The Heels have games against NC State and Duke coming up, so they can put together an impressive streak over the next week.


The Bulldogs have made the NCAA Tournament just once in their history, in 2011. Gardner-Webb stands a good chance of returning this year as the Bulldogs are 12-4 on the year and atop the Big South at 4-0. They’ve won four straight, the last three by six points or fewer. The Bulldogs are led by Jhessyka Williams, who leads the Big South in scoring (18.9) and rebounding (10.1) to team with Big South preseason player of the year Alasia Smith (13.3 points, 9.1 rebounds). Gardner-Webb leads the Big South in scoring, steals and offensive rebounding, fueling a fierce fast-break attack.


The Aggies are tied for first in the CAA at 4-0 and are 10-5 overall. A&T hopes to return to the dance this year after making it in 2021. The Aggies are making a splash in their first year in the CAA, led by Jazmin Harris, who leads the team in scoring, rebounding, blocks, shooting and free throw percentage. The Aggies have won five straight, and their losses have come on the road against power conference teams Duke, Cincinnati, ECU, Miami and Auburn.