By R.L. Bynum
The No. 19 North Carolina women will likely host first- and second-round NCAA tournament games next weekend. Only a big run by Oklahoma in this weekend’s Big 12 Tournament could have prevented that, but the Sooners lost in the semifinals Saturday.
Charlie Creme, who projects brackets for ESPN, said in a media availability on Friday that he has the Tar Heels (21–10) as the No. 15 overall seed, giving them a bit of a buffer since the top 16 seeds host first- and second-round games. His No. 16 seed is Villanova (17–3).
“What stands out is the number of quality wins that the Tar Heels have,” Creme said. “Six wins in the top 25 of the NET, and that’s among the best. They have some losses, and they endured some injury issues, too, which kind of prevents it from being higher. But I see them as a team within the top 16.”
ESPN will announce the women’s field on its 8 p.m. selection show. The team will have a watch party at Top of The Hill that’s open to the public.
Should there be games at Carmichael Arena, first-round games would be Friday or Saturday and second-round games would be Sunday or Monday. Carolina probably deserved to host last season, but got a No. 5 seed and had to win at Arizona to make the Sweet 16.
The positive part of Creme’s current projection is that UNC would advance to one of the two regionals in Greenville, S.C. instead of one of the two Seattle regionals. The negative part is that the Tar Heels would play No. 1 and reigning national champion South Carolina (32–0) in the Sweet 16 for the second consecutive season.
Carolina, led by junior guard Deja Kelly’s 16.2 points per game and court leadership, is 21st in the NET rankings and the No. 14 Sooners are No. 36.
No. 2-seed Oklahoma (25–4) survived a quarterfinals challenge Friday from No. 10-seed TCU (8–23) before winning 77–76 in the Big 12 Tournament. But the Sooners’ run ended with an 82–72 Saturday semifinal loss to No. 3-seed Iowa State (20–9, 14th in the NET).
“North Carolina is another one of those teams where the matchups really are going to matter quite a bit,” Creme said. “I could certainly see them as a Sweet 16 team. And if we’re talking Elite Eight, it’s gonna come down to who they would be playing in that game.”
The Tar Heels played well down the stretch against quality opponents. After losing an overtime game at N.C. State, UNC won three of its last five games. The only losses were against No. 4 Virginia Tech 61–59 on Feb. 23 in Chapel Hill and No. 13 Duke 44–40 in the ACC Tournament quarterfinals, both coming down to the final possessions.
Coach Courtney Banghart finally had the team available for the last four games that she expected before the season.
Redshirt freshman forward Teonni Key missed the first two games recovering from knee surgery. Redshirt freshman guard Kayla McPherson (7.4 points per game) missed the first 20 games with a knee injury. Fifth-year guard Eva Hodgson (9.3) was out eight games with an upper-body injury and junior forward Alyssa Ustby (13.1 points and a team-leading 8.5 rebounds per game) missed five games with a lower-body injury.
“The potential is there,” Creme said. “They’re well-coached. Now they’re whole; they’ve gotten three players back that were out at different parts of the season.”
Creme says that the Tar Heels have gotten his attention in different ways with some of their performances.
“They can have those games we look at and say, ‘Wow, how was this a good team?’ And then there’s other nights, ‘Wow, how was this team not in the top 10 in the country.’ ” Creme said. “So, there’s a big pendulum swing with North Carolina. I think the ceiling, though, would be Elite Eight.”
The Tar Heels are, no doubt, eager to prove him wrong.
|9||Wednesday||W, 91–59||Jackson State||Home||1–0|
|16||Wednesday||W, 93–25||South Carolina State||Home||3–0|
|20||Sunday||W, 76–65||James Madison||Harrisonburg, Va.||4–0|
|Phil Knight Invitational|
|27||Sunday||W, 73–64||No. 17 Iowa State||Portland||6–0|
|December||ACC/Big Ten Challenge|
|1||Thursday||L, 87–63||No. 2 Indiana||Bloomington, Ind.||6–1|
|16||Friday||W, 89–47||USC Upstate||Home||9–1|
|20||Tuesday||L, 76–68||No. 18 Michigan||Charlotte||9–2|
|ACC season begins|
|29||Thursday||L, 78–71||Florida State||Home||9–3, 0–1 ACC|
|1||Sunday||L, 68–65||No. 4 |
|Blacksburg, Va.||9–4, 0–2 ACC|
|5||Thursday||L, 62–58||Miami||Coral Gables, Fla.||9–5, 0–3 ACC|
|8||Sunday||W, 60–50||No. 10 |
|12||Thursday||W, 70–59||Virginia||Charlottesville, Va.||11–5, |
|15||Sunday||W, 56–47||N.C. State||Home||12–5, |
|19||Thursday||W, 61–56||No. 13 Duke||Home||13–5, |
|22||Sunday||W, 70–57||Georgia Tech||Home||14–5, |
|26||Thursday||W, 72–57||Pittsburgh||Pittsburgh||15–5, |
|29||Sunday||W, 69–58||Clemson||Clemson||16–5, |
|2||Thursday||W, 73–62||Virginia||Home||17–5, |
|5||Sunday||L, 62–55||Louisville||Louisville||17–6, |
|9||Thursday||L, 75–67||Syracuse||Syracuse||17–7, |
|12||Sunday||W, 73–55||Boston College||Home||18–7, |
|16||Thursday||L, 77–66, OT||N.C. State||Raleigh||18–8, |
|19||Sunday||W, 71–58||Wake Forest||Home||19–8, |
|23||Thursday||L, 61–59||No. 4 |
|26||Sunday||W, 45–41||No. 13 Duke||Durham||20–9, |
|3||Friday||L, 44–40||No. 13 Duke||Greensboro||21–10|
|18||Saturday||W, 61–59||St. John’s||Columbus, Ohio||22–10|
|20||Monday||L, 71–69||No. 12 Ohio State||Columbus, Ohio||22–11|
Photo courtesy of the ACC