By R.L. Bynum
CHAPEL HILL — A year after the NCAA selection committee denied North Carolina’s women a No. 4 seed in the NCAA tournament and the perk of hosting most thought was deserved, the Tar Heels were again underseeded.
Most projections had the Tar Heels a No. 4 seed, but they will be a No. 6 and play first-round games in Columbus, Ohio, with a trip to Seattle following that if they get two wins in Columbus.
“I think they were looking at different metrics than I was looking at or what I looked at last year,” UNC coach Courtney Banghart said, speculating that teams’ records in the last 10 games may have weighed heavily in the minds of the committee. “I was surprised.”
The team and its fans at a Top of the Hill restaurant sighed with relief when it became obvious that the Tar Heels wouldn’t be put in No. 1 South Carolina’s region for the second consecutive season but groaned when UNC’s spot was announced. It is UNC’s third consecutive NCAA appearance under Banghart and 30th overall.
“We’re really excited to have another opportunity to play in the NCAA tournament, although we’re bummed that we didn’t get a four seed because that means we won’t be able to play right at home,” junior forward Alyssa Ustby said. “I feel personally more fuel than ever right now. And I’m sure many of my teammates can say the same. We’re just we’re going to be going in there punching.”
The positive is that Carolina, which fell one spot to No. 20 in the last AP Top 25 poll released Monday, could make the Final Four without having to take on the undefeated and reigning champion Gamecocks.
“The more times you get a crack at it, the better,” Banghart said. “The Sweet 16 run was really valuable for our team. And now, it’s can we can we get there again, one weekend at a time.”
UNC (21–10) opens the tournament in Columbus, Ohio, on Saturday against the No. 11 seed (4 p.m., ESPN), the winner of Thursday’s 7 p.m. play-in game between Purdue (19-10) and St. John’s (22–8). With a win, the Tar Heels would face either No. 3-seed and No. 12-ranked Ohio State (25–7) or No. 14-seed James Madison (26–7) on Monday.
“We know all the teams are good in March,” Banghart said. “They’ll present unique challenges that we’ve got to wrap our arms around, but we’re just excited to get underway.”
The ACC leads all conferences with eight NCAA teams. Making the field in addition to the Tar Heels were Duke, Florida State, Louisville, Miami, N.C. State at Notre Dame.
UNC’s resume is stronger this season because of the number of quality wins and good losses but it didn’t appear to make much difference. The latter includes a pair of No. 1 seeds in No. 3-ranked Indiana and No. 4-ranked Virginia Tech. In addition, UNC has no losses to teams 60 or lower in the NET rankings and 14 wins against teams in the top 100.
“I think we thought it was a very real possibility that we would be a host,” Banghart said. “Some people look at how many Top 25 wins. If you’re looking at that, we should hosting. They look at bad losses, we should be hosting. They look at strength of schedule, we should be hosting.”
The Tar Heels went 6–7 against teams ranked in the NET top 25. That win total is as many as the teams with the next-highest total, Colorado and Tennessee, have combined.
Carolina has six wins over teams in the field: Sun Belt champion James Madison, Big 12 champion Iowa State, Notre Dame, N.C. State and Duke (twice). The Heels have nine losses against teams in the field: Regular-season Big Ten champion Indiana, Michigan, Florida State, N.C. State, ACC champion Virginia Tech (twice), Miami, Louisville and Duke.
UNC has six wins over Top 25 teams, with three of those on the road. The Tar Heels played the 12th-toughest schedule in the country according to NET ranking.
Instead of playing games in Carmichael Arena as the Tar Heels expected, they could play a second-round game against the Buckeyes on their home court. Purdue is close enough to bring plenty of fans to Columbus if the Boilermakers advance.
Banghart says that playing on another team’s home court will always happen if a team is seeded lower than four.
“It was within our reach,” she said. “We lost to Virginia Tech very late and we had the injuries, so we had three losses there. And then we didn’t pull out a Duke win in the tournament. We had our chances. We had a lot of wins early then had some adversity, but we’re as healthy as we’ve been.”
A Sweet 16 matchup in Seattle Region 3 will likely be with No. 2-seed UConn. Virginia Tech (27–4) is the No. 1 seed in UNC’s region.
A year ago, the committee gave Carolina a No. 5 seed despite 23 wins, but the Tar Heels beat host Arizona on its home court in the second round, 63–45, to earn a Sweet 16 berth.
The Tar Heels are 49–28 all-time in NCAA play, including the 1994 national championship and additional Final Four appearances in 2006 and 2007.
While spring break this week means no classes for the players, it also means that most of the men students who practice with the team won’t be around to help the Tar Heels prepare for the NCAA tournament.
At the Schottenstein Center in Columbus, Ohio
Thursday’s play-in game
Purdue vs. St. John’s, 7 p.m.
Saturday’s first-round games
No. 3-seed Ohio State vs. No. 14 James Madison, 1:30, ESPN2
No. 6 North Carolina vs. No. 11 Purdue or St. John’s, 4 p.m., ESPN
Monday’s second round
Seattle 3 Regional
At Climate Pledge Arena
Saturday, March 25 regional semifinals
Columbus, Ohio, subregional winner vs. Storrs, Conn., subregional winner (No. 2 UConn, No. 15 Vermont, No. 7 Baylor or No. 10 Alabama)
Knoxville, Tenn., subregional winner (No. 4 Tennesee, No. 13 Saint Louis, No. 5 Iowa State or No. 12 Toledo) vs. Blacksburg, Va. subregional winner (No. 1 Virginia Tech, No. 16 Chatanooga, No. 8 Southern Cal or No. 9 South Dakota State)
Monday, March 27 regional final
Regional semifinal winners
|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