Duke, N.C. State, UNC-Asheville represent North Carolina in the men’s NCAA Tournament
Fresh off winning the program’s 22nd Atlantic Coast Conference Championship, the Duke Blue Devils are entering the NCAA Tournament with tons of momentum. Under the direction of first-year head coach Jon Scheyer, Duke earned a No. 5 seed in the tournament and will face No. 12 Oral Roberts on Thursday in Orlando.
The Blue Devils are North Carolina’s highest-seeded team in this year’s tournament, and they’re joined by 11th-seeded N.C. State, and No. 15 UNC-Asheville. North Carolina and Wake Forest were among those left out of the tournament field.
To preview the tournament, let’s dive into some questions surrounding the teams from the Tar Heel State.
Duke is one of the hottest teams in the country. Will that continue?
Duke lost back-to-back games in early February at Miami and at Virginia. After that Miami loss, they held a players-only meeting. No one really knows what went down there, but after that loss to Virginia, Duke has won nine straight games, including the ACC Tournament title last week in Greensboro. The Blue Devils have a mix of experience in veteran guard Jeremy Roach and young talent in ACC Rookie of the Year Kyle Filipowski.
The big difference between this Duke team and the one that went to the Final Four last year is, of course, the fact that longtime coach Mike Krzyzewski is no longer on the sidelines. His understudy Jon Scheyer is the head coach now, and he’s got the Blue Devils playing their best basketball at the right time. And they’re doing it with a roster that Scheyer made in his vision: Roach is the only returning starter from last season’s team and Scheyer added six freshmen and four transfers to the mix.
Despite not earning any votes for ACC Coach of the Year, what Scheyer has done has been impressive. He is the first to win an ACC Tournament title as a player and a head coach, and the third ACC head coach to win the league’s crown in his first season.
UNC-Asheville faces 2-seed UCLA. What are the Bulldogs chances at an upset?
It seems pretty unlikely that Asheville will beat the mighty Bruins. Since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, a 15-seed has beaten a 2-seed only ten times. However, it has happened twice in the past two years, with Oral Roberts beating Ohio State in 2021 and Saint Peter’s topping Kentucky in 2022.
UNC-Asheville went 27-7 in the regular season and won the Big South Championship, but they haven’t really faced a team matching the caliber of UCLA. If the Bulldogs want to pull off a historic upset, they’ll likely need a once-in-a-lifetime performance from Drew Pember, who averages 21 points and nine rebounds per game.
N.C. State is back in the Big Dance. What are the Wolfpack’s chances of making a deep run?
The good news for N.C. State is that it doesn’t have to play Clemson again. For whatever reason the Tigers were the Wolfpack’s kryptonite this season, beating them three times, including in last week’s ACC Tournament.
But before that game against Clemson, N.C. State had one of its best games of the season in a 97-77 win over Virginia Tech in Greensboro. It was the most points the Wolfpack scored against an ACC opponent all season, and N.C. State shot a season-best 61.9% from the floor. Key in that game were the performances of Terquavion Smith and Jarkel Joiner, who combined for 50 points, 15 rebounds and 13 assists.
This N.C. State team will go as far as Smith and Joiner can take them. If both are playing at their best, the Wolfpack can play with anyone.
It’s been five years since N.C. State was last in the NCAA Tournament. Wolfpack fans hope their stay isn’t a short one.
And why isn’t North Carolina in the tournament? Or in the NIT?
It was a wildly disappointing season for North Carolina. The Tar Heels played in the national championship game last year and expected another deep run in March. Instead, UNC finished the season 20-13 overall, 11-9 in ACC play, and lost in the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament.
The NCAA Tournament Selection Committee said the Tar Heels were among the “first four out” which means they just missed the cut for an at-large bid. Had UNC won one or two more games, they would’ve been dancing. Second-year coach Hubert Davis is probably thinking an awful lot about a quadruple-overtime game UNC lost to Alabama on a neutral court in November.
UNC becomes the first team to be ranked as the preseason No. 1 in the AP Top 25 Poll to miss the NCAA Tournament since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1985.
After the NCAA disappointment, Carolina announced that it had declined a bid to the NIT. For this veteran UNC team – which carried 12 upperclassmen on its roster – it was clear that their expectations were NCAA Tournament or bust, and there was little interest in competing in a second-tier tournament.
“All season our focus and goal have been on being the best team we can possibly become and reaching our full potential to give us another opportunity to compete, play for and win an NCAA championship,” Davis said in a statement about declining the NIT bid. “… We believe now is the time to focus on moving ahead, preparing for next season and the opportunity to again compete for ACC and NCAA championships.”