Anything can happen, and usually does, in the NCAA tournament.
After his team’s listless performance against Duke in the ACC tournament, N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried explained this to his team, and then to the media in Greensboro.
“One thing, just to remind you, and I told our team this,” Gottfried said as he wrapped up his press conference after Thursday’s 77-53 loss to Duke. “If I got this right, and I think I am, I think UConn lost last year in their conference tournament by 40 – 40!
“They came back and won six games.”
Gottfried’s details are a little off, but his point remains the same. Connecticut, the 2014 national champions, lost to Louisville by 33 points in the regular-season finale and then lost to the Cardinals by 10 points in the American Athletic Conference tournament.
This is unbeaten Kentucky’s NCAA tournament to lose, but Duke, North Carolina and N.C. State are hoping that March’s unpredictability continues unabated. The Triangle teams will learn their tournament paths Sunday night.
The “First Four” begins Tuesday in Dayton, Ohio, the Round of 64 starts Thursday and there’s a good chance two ACC teams will be in Charlotte on Friday when tournament play starts at Time Warner Cable Arena.
What the three Triangle teams have to look forward to on Selection Sunday:
1) Back on the No. 1 line for Duke?
Even after stumbling to Notre Dame in the semifinals of the ACC tournament, Duke (29-4) has made its case for one of the four No. 1 seeds in the NCAA field. The Blue Devils have six wins over top 25 RPI teams and 17 over top 100 teams. Their overall strength of schedule is No. 12 in the country.
The biggest plus for the Blue Devils is they have road wins over two of the other primary options (Wisconsin and Virginia) for a No. 1 seed.
Working against Duke is precedent. Duke has been a No. 1 seed 12 times under coach Mike Krzyzewski, each time the Devils won the ACC title or finished the regular season in first place.
Neither happened for this team, but the Devils have a better overall resume than Virginia (which finished in first this season).
Does it really matter if Duke is a No. 1 or No. 2 seed? Probably not in terms of starting in Charlotte. It would take some serious back-room political shenanigans for the Blue Devils to start the tournament elsewhere.
But as far as starting as a No. 1 seed, Krzyzewski’s record is 45-9 in 12 years with three national titles and six trips to the Final Four. In terms of getting to the Sweet 16, Krzyzewski’s teams are 12-for-12 as a No. 1 seed.
Krzyzewski has still won plenty of games as another seed, 37-17 in 18 years with one national title (1991 (as a two seed) and five trips to the Final Four. But those 18 Duke teams only made the Sweet 16 half the time.
2) Sweet home Carolina
North Carolina has been to the NCAA tournament 10 times in Roy Williams’ first 11 seasons. Every time the Tar Heels start the tournament in North Carolina (six: 2005, ’07, ’08, ’09, ’11, ’12), they make the Sweet 16 round. Every time they don’t (four: ’04 Denver, ’06 Dayton, Ohio, ’13 Kansas City, Mo., ’14 San Antonio), they go home after one win.
Granted, every time UNC has started in-state, Williams has had a strong team, obviously, winning the national title in ’05 and ’09. But there’s no denying there’s an advantage.
The Tar Heels’ success in the ACC tournament this week at least opens the possibility of starting the tournament in Charlotte. Under the selection committee’s guidelines there is “proximity protection” for the top four seeds in each region.
In other words, the teams with the best seeds have earned the right to play closer to home (which helps sell tickets and make money for the NCAA).
Virginia, which will have a better seed than UNC, is 317 miles to Pittsburgh (according to Google) and 270 to Charlotte.
The committee might decide to send the Cavaliers, who started in Raleigh last year, to Pittsburgh.
3) Date with Kentucky?
N.C. State (20-13) won six of its past eight games to get off the bubble and squarely into the at-large field. Most projections have the Wolfpack as a No. 9 or No. 10 seed.
A No. 9 seed would put the Wolfpack in the 8-9 game in the Round of 64 and in the same pod as a No. 1 seed. Since it can’t be paired with potential No. 1 seeds Duke or Virginia, if N.C. State is a No. 9 seed there’s a 50-50 chance the Wolfpack could wind up with tournament favorite Kentucky. Villanova or Wisconsin are the other options as potential No. 1 seeds.
On the No. 10 line, the Wolfpack would open with a No. 7 seed in the Round of 64 but would still have to be kept apart from another ACC team as a No. 2 seed. The Wolfpack’s options on the No. 10 line would include going out West with Arizona or Gonzaga or opposite Wisconsin/Villanova.
NCAA tournament Selection Show
6 p.m. (CBS)