Even if North Carolina makes the National Invitation Tournament, tonight's matchup with Miami likely will mark the last home game of the season for the Tar Heels.
Because even if North Carolina were awarded a high enough seed to host a postseason game, it probably couldn't be at the Smith Center.
Athletics director Dick Baddour said construction on the arena is scheduled to start a week or two after the regular season (and during the early rounds of the NIT). Asked if the construction dates could be moved - or if potential NIT games could be hosted at the newly renovated Carmichael Auditorium, where the women's team plays - Baddour didn't want to talk about the possibilities until a postseason invitation is in hand. Carmichael would be available.
"Our focus is on the two remaining games, and on the ACC tournament, and playing for the ACC championship," Baddour said, alluding to the fact that the conference tournament champion receives an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. "If that doesn't occur, we'll have to look at all of our options, including whatever (postseason) opportunities might be available."
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Hosting a game at Carmichael - where the likes of Michael Jordan, Sam Perkins and James Worthy played - would be a draw for nostalgic fans.
Former N.C. State AD and coach Les Robinson, who is on the NIT selection committee and is in charge of studying the Southern, Atlantic Sun, Big South and Atlantic Coast conferences, said how many tickets a team might sell doesn't factor into which schools host. (The top 16 teams host first-round games.)
The name recognition of a team - even it's the reigning national champion, like North Carolina - no longer impacts whether a school is selected, like it did before the NCAA took over the tournament several years ago.
"When I first served on the selection committee for the NCAA tournament, I used to think that UCLA's record and background, or Kentucky's, that they had an edge," Robinson said. "It didn't take me long to realize that what you did last year, or the year before last, or the last decade, is not a factor. ... And that goes for the NIT, too."
What all this means is North Carolina might not have to worry about having a building available unless it keeps winning.
Even though North Carolina beat Wake Forest on Saturday to stay above .500, the Tar Heels (15-14) are firmly on the NIT bubble. Like the NCAA selection committee, the NIT takes into consideration multiple factors: records against top-25 and top-50 teams, nonconference performance, injuries and how squads are playing heading into the tournament.
N.C. State wants NIT consideration: Now that N.C. State has won two in a row - and is 16-13 - coach Sidney Lowe is hoping it might receive some NIT consideration, as well.
"I think it would be great for our team," Lowe said. "From a standpoint ... your continued hard work and continued great attitude has paid off and you're going to continue to play."
On the plus side, N.C. State has three wins against ACC teams likely to make the NCAA tournament (Duke, Florida State and Wake Forest) and a nonconference win against Marquette. On the flip side, N.C. State lost to Arizona, Northwestern and North Carolina - teams also on the NIT bubble. STAFF WRITER J.P. GIGLIO CONTRIBUTED.