There was good news and bad news for the Queen City when the NCAA men’s basketball tournament unveiled the eight teams it would send to Charlotte on Sunday night.
The good: Charlotte will be a very relevant place Friday and Sunday when it hosts first- and second-round NCAA tournament games at the Spectrum Center.
Virginia, the No. 1 overall seed in the 68-team tournament, earned a berth in Charlotte. So did North Carolina, which grabbed a No. 2 seed and a short trip from Chapel Hill likely due to Friday night’s ACC tournament semifinal win over Duke (the Blue Devils were sent to Pittsburgh, also as a No. 2). The Tar Heels’ presence will help the local buzz - and the ticket sales - considerably.
The bad: Davidson won the Atlantic 10 tournament with a wonderful three-day run that ended Sunday with a thrilling one-point win over Rhode Island. But three hours later, Davidson found out that instead of traveling 20 miles to uptown Charlotte – or at least to a drivable first-round site like Nashville or Pittsburgh - it will be traveling 2,300 miles to Boise, Idaho, to face Kentucky. Two sets of Wildcats playing in Idaho at 7:10 p.m. on a Thursday – that’s the sort of strangeness the first weekend of the NCAA tournament brings.
Also coming to Charlotte this weekend: Six teams without many local connections but sporting the same dreams that everyone else does this time of year. Creighton, Kansas State, Texas A&M, Providence, Lipscomb and UMBC will all visit the Queen City, too.
But the headliners will undoubtedly be the two teams that just met in the ACC tournament final in Brooklyn Saturday night. Virginia and North Carolina won’t meet each other again in Charlotte.
There will be four tournament games Friday in Charlotte and two more on Sunday, with North Carolina playing Lipscomb at 2:45 p.m. Friday and Virginia facing UMBC in the nightcap at 9:20 p.m. Both the Cavaliers and Tar Heels will be favored to survive the weekend and move on to the Sweet 16.
Virginia, coached by former Charlotte Hornets guard Tony Bennett, was unranked at the beginning of the season but has played defense extraordinarily well and is a favorite to make the Final Four in San Antonio in early April. North Carolina is trying to qualify for its third Final Four in a row.
That awkward selection show
No matter what we see in Charlotte, it will undoubtedly be better than the awkward mess that was the NCAA selection show on TBS Sunday night.
There were a number of low points – the “Let’s tell you the teams that are in but not where they play” beginning; the cavernous set; the weird camera angles that sometimes kept Charles Barkley’s entire round frame out of the picture except for his seemingly disembodied hand.
But rock bottom was undoubtedly reached when Ernie Johnson basically did a live pizza ad while standing in the middle of an embarrassed-looking live studio audience, then asked for a piece of the pizza somebody was eating, took a bite and told the crowd to be more enthusiastic about this whole charade.
8 teams from Carolinas
Yes, there’s going to be some fluff in the NCAA tournament, as well as cynicism and controversy. There always is.
But the games themselves generally rise above the noise long enough to make everyone remember why they ever loved “March Madness” in the first place. There are six teams from North Carolina playing this year (Duke, UNC, N.C. State, UNC Greensboro, N.C. Central and Davidson) and two more from South Carolina (Clemson and College of Charleston).
So fill out your bracket. Check and double-check all the starting times. Try to remember what channel truTV is on.
The best tournament in sports is back.
Who’s coming to Charlotte
▪ No. 1 Virginia vs. No. 16 UMBC: 9:20 p.m. Friday; TV: TNT
▪ No. 8 Creighton vs. No. 9 Kansas State: 6:50 Friday; TV: TNT
▪ No. 7 Texas A&M vs. No. 10 Providence: 12:15 Friday; TV: CBS
▪ No. 2 North Carolina vs. No. 15 Lipscomb: 2:45 Friday; TV: CBS