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Why UNC, despite NC State loss and 5-4 ACC record, is projected as lock for NCAA tournament

Watch as NC State forces two turnovers in final 15 seconds of victory over UNC

Watch a time lapse as NC State, up by three with 15 seconds left in overtime, forces North Carolina to commit two turnovers to help seal the victory over the Tar Heels at the Smith Center in Chapel Hill, NC Saturday, Jan. 27, 2018.
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Watch a time lapse as NC State, up by three with 15 seconds left in overtime, forces North Carolina to commit two turnovers to help seal the victory over the Tar Heels at the Smith Center in Chapel Hill, NC Saturday, Jan. 27, 2018.

North Carolina has a stronger NCAA tournament resume than its ACC record might indicate.

The Tar Heels are tied with N.C. State in the ACC standings at the halfway mark in conference play but the Heels (16-6, 5-4 ACC) are considered a lock for the NCAA tournament – and a good seed – while N.C. State (15-7, 5-4) is a bubble team.

Why?

The best part of UNC’s resume is its strength of schedule (SoS) and the Heels have a chance to give that another boost on Tuesday with a road game at Clemson (17-4, 6-3), ranked No. 5 in the RPI.

UNC is ranked No. 11 in the RPI and its nonconference schedule is rated as the eighth-best in the country, according to Jerry Palm’s RPI numbers. The Heels’ overall SoS is No. 3.

N.C. State is No. 63 in the RPI with a nonconference SoS of No. 269 and an overall SoS of No. 64.

Brand name wins

The NCAA tournament selection committee uses the nonconference SoS as a main factor because it’s an indication of the games a school can control. Did you schedule easy wins or did you challenge your team outside the league?

The Heels don’t have a big, brand-name wins – like N.C. State does – but they do have wins outside the ACC at Tennessee (No. 13 in the RPI) and a pair of neutral-site wins over Arkansas (No. 21) and Ohio State (No. 24).

N.C State has beaten Arizona (No. 14 in the RPI), Duke (No. 4), Clemson and UNC.

A Jan. 16 home win over the Tigers would be considered UNC’s best win of the season – if the selection committee were to meet today. Two games against Duke are the only other top 10 games left on UNC’s schedule.

Also, on the plus side for UNC, it doesn’t have any “bad” losses (Wofford is No. 110 in the RPI) or even many games (two) against low RPI teams.

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North Carolina had trouble matching up with NC State’s Omer Yurtseven (14) late in regulation in Saturday’s loss. Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com

UNC’s case with the selection committee would be about quantity over tippy-top quality.

The selection committee used to compare teams by wins against the top 25/50/100 teams in the RPI. This year they’ve broken teams down into quadrants to judge road and neutral site wins on a sliding scale.

Home games against the top 30 in the RPI are grouped in Quadrant 1 with neutral-site games against the top 50 and road games against the top 75.

UNC is 4-4 against the top quadrant.

Home games against teams ranked No. 31-75 in the RPI are grouped in Quadrant 2 with neutral-site games against the teams ranked No. 51-100 and road games against teams ranked No. 76-135.

UNC has a 4-1 mark against Quadrant 2.

The Heels are even better (6-1) record against Quadrant 3 (home games against teams ranked No. 76-160 in the RPI, neutral-site games against the teams ranked No. 101-200 and road games against teams ranked No. 136-240).

A No. 3 seed?

UNC has only played two games (wins over Western Carolina and Portland) against Quadrant 4 (home games against teams ranked No. 161 or higher, neutral-site games against the teams ranked No. 201 or higher and road games against teams ranked No. 241 or higher), compared to seven for N.C. State.

The strength of schedule and the number of wins in the top two quadrants are why the Washington Post’s Patrick Stevens has UNC projected as a No. 3 seed; ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has them as a No. 4 seed and Palm has them as a No. 6 seed.

The Tar Heels can’t afford to go 5-4 in the second half of the ACC schedule and have a serious shot at that type of seed.

With their current RPI and SoS, UNC still has a chance to open NCAA play in Charlotte. The two games with Duke will go a long way in determining where UNC ultimately gets seeded and placed.

Right now, UNC coach Roy Williams is only worried about getting his team better and, in particular, playing better on the road.

UNC takes a 1-3 ACC road record into Tuesday’s game with the Tigers, who are trying to reinvent themselves without injured forward Donte Grantham.

Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio

No. 19 UNC at No. 20 Clemson

When: Tuesday, 7 p.m.

Where: Littlejohn Coliseum, Clemson, S.C.

TV/radio: ESPN2, 106.1-WTKK

UNC (16-6, 5-4 ACC)

G Joel Berry 17.0 ppg, 3.5 rpg

G Kenny Williams 11.2 ppg, 3.4 rpg

G Cam Johnson 10.9 ppg, 4.6 rpg

F Theo Pinson 9.5 ppg, 4.4 apg

F Luke Maye 18.6 ppg, 10.5 rpg

Clemson (17-4, 6-3 ACC)

G Shelton Mitchell 12.0 ppg, 4.1 apg

G Marcquise Reed 15.4 ppg, 4.6 rpg

G Gabe DeVoe 12.3 ppg, 4.6 rpg

F Aamir Simms 2.9 ppg, 2.5 rpg

F Elijah Thomas 10.5 ppg, 7.4 rpg

Storyline: The Tigers lost senior forward Donte Grantham to a knee injury in the second half of a Jan. 20 home win over Notre Dame. They have lost at Virginia and won at Georgia Tech without him. No Grantham means the Tigers will be a good matchup for UNC’s smaller, perimeter-oriented lineup. ... UNC won the first meeting, 87-79, on Jan. 16 in Chapel Hill.

Joe Giglio

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