When the basketball season began, it looked like March might present a pretty bad deal for the three Triangle teams. For the first time since 2010 and only the second time since 2003, the state of North Carolina would not host an NCAA tournament subregional. With all three teams in the preseason Top 25, that had the potential to be a bad break.
The tournament now is a month away and that quirk looks completely irrelevant. Only Duke has the potential to get geographic priority as a top-four seed, and N.C. State and North Carolina likely would have been shipped out of the area anyway.
It’s a strange set of tournament sites this year, with nothing on the East Coast south of Lexington, Ky. There’s a giant hole in the Southeast, where both Duke and Florida might expect to stay based on their seasons so far. The other subregional sites are: Dayton, Ohio; Austin, Texas; Philadelphia; Auburn Hills, Mich.; Kansas City, Mo.; Salt Lake City and San Jose, Calif.
With few teams worthy of priority out west, there are going to be some unhappy top-four seeds sent packing to fill out the subregionals in Utah and California. And with regionals in Los Angeles (West) and Arlington, Texas (South), the path might not get easier for those teams. The other regionals will be in Indianapolis (Midwest) and Washington, D.C. (East).
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“Our general philosophy right now though is, through the pod system, to get as many teams as we can as close to their campuses and their national geographic region as we can,” NCAA selection committee chairman Mike Bobinski, the athletic director at Xavier , said last week. “That is the general philosophy. It’s not always perfect, but that’s what we’re trying to get done.”
That also makes it a rare year North Carolina doesn’t host the first weekend of the tournament. Since the NCAA went to the pod system in 2002, Greensboro (three times), Charlotte (twice), Raleigh (twice) and Winston-Salem all have hosted during the past decade. Either North Carolina or Duke has appeared each time – both teams on four occasions.
When a North Carolina venue bids for tournament games, landing two teams is the goal, and typically tickets sell well to fans of Duke and North Carolina long before the bracket is announced. N.C. State hasn’t been relevant enough over the past decade to figure into the equation, but the Wolfpack certainly would have sold quite a few tickets this season.
Instead, assuming the Tar Heels and Wolfpack make the tournament, they can plan on making travel plans. N.C. State is used to that, playing in Columbus, Ohio; Dallas; Worcester, Mass.; Orlando, Fla.; and Oklahoma City in recent years, but the Tar Heels haven’t started the tournament out of state since 2006.
With the usual dearth of quality teams out west, meanwhile, Duke still has the potential to get sent that direction as the worst of the No. 1 seeds or best of the No. 2 seeds – perhaps staying relatively close to home at first, in Lexington, Ky. or Philadelphia, before getting shipped out to Los Angeles – and that route has not been kind to the Blue Devils.
None of Mike Krzyzewski’s 11 Final Four teams at Duke have traveled any farther west than Texas. None of Krzyzewski’s record 79 wins in the NCAA tournament have come on Pacific time, when he’s 0-4.
By the same token, it’s possible to read too much into this. The last time North Carolina didn’t host a subregional was 2010, when the Blue Devils went through Jacksonville, Fla., and Houston on their way to the national title.