College Basketball

Heels, on NIT bubble, could play on road

Staff WriterMarch 2, 2010 

Even if North Carolina makes the NIT, tonight's matchup against Miami probably will mark the last home game of the season for the Tar Heels.

Because even if UNC were awarded a high enough seed to host a game in the tournament, it probably couldn't be played at the Smith Center.

Athletic director Dick Baddour said construction on the roughly 21,000-capacity arena is scheduled to start a week or two after the end of the regular season (and during the first rounds of the NIT). Asked if the construction dates could be moved - or if potential NIT games could be hosted in the newly renovated Carmichael Auditorium, where the women's team plays - Baddour didn't want to talk about the possibilities until a tournament 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, as well as the construction, as well as other factors as to where we might be able to play.

"Right now, I don't want to turn any attention away from regular season, and ACC Tournament, and all opportunities for the team," he said.

Hosting a game in almost-7,000-capacity Carmichael - where the likes of Michael Jordan, Sam Perkins and James Worthy played before the Smith Center was built - would be a draw for nostalgic fans.

Former N.C. State athletic director 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, with the highest seeds hosting two more games until the final four head to New York.)

In addition, the name recognition of a team - even if it's the defending national champion, like UNC - no longer affects 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. Your name is not a factor, it's just what your numbers are now. ... And that goes for the NIT, too."

What all this means is that UNC might not have to worry about having a building available - or even being ready to play on the road past the ACC Tournament - unless it keeps winning.

Even though UNC beat Wake Forest on Saturday to stay above .500, the 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, too: Now that N.C. State has won two in a row - and is 16-13 with two games left - 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, you know what, 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 over ACC teams likely to make the NCAA Tournament (Duke, Florida State and Wake Forest) and a nonconference win over Marquette. On the flip side, State lost to Arizona, Northwestern and UNC -- three teams also on the NIT bubble.

Staff writer J.P. Giglio contributed to this report.

robbi.pickeral@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8944

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