The North Carolina Tar Heels are feeling the effects of growing pains more than usual. After losing four of five starts to the NBA draft last year, Roy Williams had to start back in square one and it has been a long and tough season on him the Tar Heels.
Joe Soriano and I have one simple question: Are the Tar Heels NIT bound? We’re going to share our thoughts below, and hope to hear what you have to say in the comments below!
Bryant: It’s hard for me to truly say yes or no. There are a lot of pending factors in this. If North Carolina can play with the same intensity, lineup, and strength that they did Wednesday night in Durham, they will make the NCAA Tournament. Despite falling five points short of the No. 2 Blue Devils, the Tar Heels played their best game against a quality opponent and it was in Durham which as everyone knows, not an easy task.
If they do make the NCAA Tournament, they won’t be a high seed. In fact I truly believe the Tar Heels as well as the Kentucky Wildcats will have to play in the first round of four to even make the field of 64 to begin with.
However, if they return to their sloppy defense and shot selection ways of the pre-Duke game days…I lose hope. North Carolina is a bubble team and must win against a worthy opponent. A win against Virginia, State and Duke (remaining on the schedule) is a must for the Tar Heels. Of their wins so far, they have none against a resume worthy team, and making those three games important.
Joe: This is a quite popular question that many people are asking, and it draws snickers and jeers from a few N.C. State and Duke fans on Twitter; both teams that are locks for the NCAA Tournament this year.
It’s easy to sit here and say “Doom for UNC”, because this team is underperforming when looking at previous years. Hell, any time UNC isn’t at least ranked in the top 25 it sends shockwaves that this is a “rebuilding” year for a blue blood team.
I honestly think the “NIT-bound” talk regarding the Tar Heels is quite ludicrous, because a quick look at the numbers and advanced statistics tells the story of a team that has a spot in the NCAA Tournament bracket with their name written on it. It won’t be a familiar top slot, but it’s a chance to get something going nonetheless. This team is stocked with young talent, and the pieces are finally hitting their stride late in the season; that’s where it matters most. It’s funny, because I use to cover the Kansas Jayhawks and non-Jayhawks fans would always freak out about their slow start (Michigan State is an example).
Now this UNC team is clearly not as good as they were last year or the year before, and one of the main reasons is because their big men don’t fit Roy Williams’s usual personnel requirements. There is no true great “big” down low in the mold of Tyler Zeller, but you don’t need to fit a scheme in order to be a solid team. The Tar Heels have four players with at least two win shares in finesse big James Michael McAdoo, the rising P.J. Hairston (he had better be locked into the starting spot with the way he’s played recently), the underrated Brice Johnson, and team leader and star Reggie Bullock. That’s a cog of four solid players, and that’s really all you need in order to be a solid team.
SRS is one of my favorite advanced statistics out there in college basketball (it’s really an all-around metric used by Sports Reference for every sport), because it’s accurate and simple to calculate. Did you know that the Tar Heels have the 36th-best SRS in the country? To me, that shows that this team is good enough, efficient enough, and talented enough to safely make the NCAA Tournament. UNC has played in a tough schedule, especially since they have to play two elite teams in Miami and Duke twice this year, as well as two games against another very good team in rivals N.C. State.
The Tar Heels don’t stand out in any one statistic, but they are 6-5 in conference play which ranks them squarely in fifth place. The ACC sent five teams to the tournament last season, and I think we’ll see UNC slot into the tourney once again this season. The ACC is the third-strongest conference per SRS after being rated just fifth last year, so the fact that the ACC is even stronger means that UNC has a better case to get in. I mean, if five teams made it in a weaker top-to-bottom ACC last year, then surely at least five teams will be sent in this season.
UNC is sandwiched between UCLA and Notre Dame in the SRS rankings, and that’s good enough for me to think that this team is worthy of an NCAA Tournament bid. In fact, I think people who are slotting UNC for an NIT bid are just downright overreacting. This team is finally clicking, they’ve played a difficult schedule, and they have enough talent. They aren’t a lock by any means and the stats do skew them a little too much, but UNC will be playing in the tourney come March.