The good news for North Carolina is that the NCAA selection committee sees it as a No. 3 seed at this point, which is a fair assessment of the Tar Heels’ work despite their ranking at the back of the top 25, which is irrelevant to the committee.
The bad news for the Tar Heels is that the teams ahead of them at this point, as of Sunday’s early reveal of the current top-16 seeds, are likely to fill up the Charlotte and Nashville subregionals and send the Tar Heels far away from home to start the tournament.
Which is, in turn, good news for Duke, the No. 7 overall seed. Despite Thursday’s loss at North Carolina, the Blue Devils remain on track to stay closer to home – first Charlotte, then Boston.
While this early ranking is non-binding and subject to change, all but one of the teams in last year’s first-ever early reveal ended up sticking as top-16 seeds. All of which is good news for the ACC, which had four teams in the top 12, more than any other conference. with No. 1 overall seed Virginia and No. 9 overall seed Clemson.
Two of those teams – at this point, Virginia and Duke – are likely to fill Charlotte long before the Tar Heels get there, while Auburn and some combination of Xavier, Cincinnati and Clemson would get to Nashville first. North Carolina could end up in Wichita, Kan., (sharing a site with Kansas, naturally, although as noncombatants for once) or even farther afield in Dallas or Boise, Idaho.
But there’s still plenty of time for North Carolina to move up, even if it’s probably a bridge too far to get past both Duke and Clemson to join Virginia in Charlotte at this point. And N.C. State fans will be thrilled to note that the Wolfpack is 4-4 against the committee’s top 16, even if that’s just a snapshot of their team’s more problematic at-large resume.
The bracket reveal spent a lot of time worrying about what regions the teams would end up in, which was helpful to fans who might not understand that process – how Virginia ended up headed for Atlanta in the South Regional, Duke to Boston in the East and Clemson to Omaha, Neb., in the Midwest, leaving North Carolina, as things stand, in the West Regional in Los Angeles for the second time in four years – but isn’t as useful for people who want to get a sense of where their team might be headed during the first weekend.
The crowded field around Charlotte is a product of the strength of the ACC, which tied the Big East for most teams in the top eight (two) and had the most (four) in the top 12 and top 16. What’s good news for the ACC is bad for mid-majors, with several deserving teams from outside the Power 5-plus-Big East overlooked – Wichita State, Gonzaga and Rhode Island, primarily. The way Arizona and Oklahoma have played lately, there may be openings for those teams to move up.
Based on last year’s early top-16 reveal, there’s a pretty good chance that even if the seeds get shuffled, these teams won’t change much. Three of the No. 1 seeds remained No. 1 seeds while Virginia went from nine to 17 last year, with Purdue jumping into the top 16 instead.
“It wouldn’t be surprising to see different results this time,” said committee chairman Bruce Rasmussen, the athletic director at Creighton. “There are several teams on the verge of cracking the top 16, and they have plenty of chances to enhance their resume over the next few weeks.”
Still, the ACC appears to be in better position than anyone else heading into the final four weeks of the season. The strength at the top bodes well for bubble teams down the ladder, N.C. State included, even it’s also likely to send North Carolina on the road in March.
Sports columnist Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock
NCAA bracket preview
This is the second straight year the selection committee has released the preview. The official tournament bracket will be revealed March 11. By region, the brackets would be:
1. Virginia (23-2), 2. Cincinnati (22-2), 3. Michigan State (24-3), 4. Tennessee (18-6)
1. Villanova (23-2), , 2. Duke (19-5), 3. Texas Tech (21-4), 4. Ohio State (22-5)
1. Xavier (23-3), 2. Auburn (22-3), 3. Clemson (20-4), 4. Oklahoma (16-8)
1. Purdue (23-4) , 2. Kansas (19-6), 3. North Carolina (19-7), 4. Arizona (20-6)