ESPN’s Joe Lunardi released his newest edition of “Bracketology” on Monday. Duke and N.C. State were the only NC teams to make the field of 68.
After a tumultuous start to the college basketball season, Duke and N.C. State are the only North Carolina schools currently projected as NCAA Tournament teams. UNC–following a recent four-game losing streak–is currently on the outside looking in, and UNC-Greensboro, one of the favorites to win the SoCon, are both on the wrong side of the cutoff line. The state fielded four teams in the 2019 tournament, including both Duke and UNC as #1 seeds.
Duke remains a top seed for the second-straight week.
Following the embarrassing home loss to Stephen F. Austin, the Blue Devils briefly fell to a two-seed, then rebounded with wins against Michigan State, Virginia Tech, and Wofford. Duke sits at 10-1 on the season, and ranks first in ESPN’s BPI, and ninth in the NCAA’s NET rankings. Both tools are factored in in determining the final tournament field, and both have Duke on very solid footing. The Blue Devils haven’t missed the tournament since 1995, and this year doesn’t figure to be any different. Duke will host Brown on Saturday before entering the thick of the conference schedule on New Year’s Eve against Boston College.
N.C. State re-enters Lunardi’s field after missing the cut last week.
The Wolfpack had a prime opportunity to pick up a marquee road win last Thursday night, but failed to hold on to the lead late against Auburn. The loss was N.C. State’s third of the season, and second against a top-25 team. The Wolfpack is currently 9-3 on the year, and up to 23rd in BPI and 38th in the NET rankings. N.C. State has moved up 13 spots in the NET rankings since the Auburn game. Perhaps the biggest reason for concern for N.C. State is its non-conference schedule–they currently have the second-worst non-conference strength of schedule in the nation. The Wolfpack’s final non-conference matchup of the season will come this Sunday at home against Appalachian State.
UNC is currently projected outside the field of 68.
Following a string of four-straight losses, the Tar Heels found themselves at 6-5 on the year before getting back on the beam with a win over UCLA on Saturday. Two times during the losing streak the Tar Heels failed to score more than 50 points, and one of the other losses was to Wofford at historic Carmichael Arena. UNC will be without star point guard Cole Anthony for at least another few weeks as he continues to recover from a torn meniscus in his right knee.
Fortunately for the Tar Heels, the schedule will lighten over the next month with games against Yale, Georgia Tech, Pittsburgh twice, and at home against Clemson. Over that stretch, Yale is perhaps the most difficult matchup. UNC hasn’t missed the tournament since 2010, but if they hope to avoid missing it this year, they had better figure things out on the offensive end. Carolina is currently averaging just 69.9 points per game–226th-best in the country.
Campbell, UNCG, and Appalachian State are other NC teams with potential NCAA Tournament hopes.
Of the teams above, UNC-Greensboro is the only team with any hope for an at-large bid, and even that seems to be a long shot. With that being said, each of the three schools would have to win their respective conferences in order to make the tournament field. The aforementioned UNCG was picked to finish second in the preseason SoCon poll, and they are perhaps the best team in the conference. Campbell currently has the best record in the Big South, and App State is off to a surprisingly good start thanks to its suffocating defense. Neither Campbell nor App State were expected to do much within the conference, however, UNCG on the other hand could be a real dark-horse candidate if they sneak into the Big Dance.