UNC could face more challenging postseason path because of HB2

Marcus Paige and the Tar Heels began their Final Four run last season in Raleigh -- and now it’s unclear when UNC might begin another NCAA tournament in North Carolina.
Marcus Paige and the Tar Heels began their Final Four run last season in Raleigh -- and now it’s unclear when UNC might begin another NCAA tournament in North Carolina. ehyman@newsobserver.com

There are far more important questions surrounding House Bill 2, the controversial law that this week forced both the NCAA and the ACC to remove championship events from North Carolina, but it's a question people might be curious about, nonetheless.

How might the decisions of the NCAA and ACC to remove events affect North Carolina's ACC schools on the field, or court? Undoubtedly, those decisions are likely to have some effect – especially in the NCAA tournament. Greensboro had been scheduled to host first- and second-round tournament games.

Those, along with the ACC championship game in football that had been set for Charlotte, have been the state's two most publicized postseason losses attributed to House Bill 2, better known as HB2. Nine other ACC championships are leaving, and six other NCAA championships are doing the same.

Their absence means, in part, that North Carolina teams and individual competitors (in sports like golf and tennis) won't have the same kind of home field (or court, or course, in golf) advantage they might have had otherwise. Don't expect the competition to weep.

For years, North Carolina-centric championships have made for easy griping outside of the state. Somewhere, former Maryland coach Gary Williams might be smiling at the fact that the men's basketball tournament, already scheduled in Brooklyn the next two years, anyway, appears to be out of North Carolina indefinitely.

Come March, the ripples of the NCAA's decision to pull events out of North Carolina could come crashing against both Duke and UNC – and maybe even N.C. State, if Dennis Smith and the rebuilt Wolfpack are as good as its talent says it should be.

Duke, with perhaps the most talented roster in the country, would have started the season as a near lock to begin the NCAA tournament at the Greensboro Coliseum. The last time they played in the NCAA tournament there the Blue Devils endured a surprising loss against Lehigh in 2012.

Nonetheless, starting the NCAA tournament at a venue about an hour away from campus is always preferable. The Tar Heels, who return every non-senior from a team that lost the national championship game on the final shot of last season, would have likely been in the mix for Greensboro, as well.

The last time the Greensboro Coliseum hosted the NCAA tournament, in 2012, both UNC and Duke were there. UNC, a No. 1 seed, won two games in Greensboro before ending its season two games later in St. Louis, wondering how far it would have gone if not for Kendall Marshall's broken wrist.

For UNC, the advantage of starting the NCAA tournament in North Carolina is clear enough. The Tar Heels are 33-1 in NCAA tournament games in North Carolina. That number is skewed, somewhat, given that many of UNC's best teams earned the opportunity to start NCAA play in this state.

But still: 33-1 speaks for itself. In Greensboro, the Tar Heels are 7-0 in NCAA tournament games. Overall, they're 115-30 in the Greensboro Coliseum.

Who knows when UNC will have a chance to play a postseason game again in this state. In basketball. In any sport, really, outside of those few – wrestling, softball, fencing, field hockey – that the ACC is allowing to continue to go on at North Carolina campus sites.

Last year, the Tar Heels reached the ACC championship game in football for the first time. A festive atmosphere awaited in Charlotte, which has embraced the game after it floundered for several years in Florida. Clemson, only about two hours away from Charlotte, brought more fans to that game last year. But there was plenty of light blue, too, amid a celebratory atmosphere in the city.

Now the game could be headed back to Florida. Orlando appears as likely of a destination as any.

“I hate it for the state of North Carolina, and I hate it for the people of Charlotte,” UNC football coach Larry Fedora said on Wednesday. “Because we had an unbelievable trip down there, other than the outcome of the game last year.”

The ACC had found a home for its football championship game. The NCAA tournament, meanwhile, had often made a home in North Carolina. The state had hosted first- and second-round games in eight of the past 10 seasons.

No more, though. Regardless of how successful North Carolina's ACC schools are on the field, or court, they'll be headed out of state for the postseason, without the comforting benefit of playing close to home.