The North Carolina Tar Heels are in the NCAA Tournament again, this time in the East region. The Heels will play Providence on Friday and then the winner of Iowa State and NC Central if they advance to the third round. Here are some grades for UNC’s seed and bracket.
Seed: C-: For the second straight season, the Tar Heels received a seed that left some fans and experts raising their eyebrows. The Heels received a #6 seed in the East region after earning #8 seed in the South last year. They entered their regular season finale on a 12-game winning streak and had positioned themselves to be a #3 or maybe even a #2 seed in the tournament. However, a loss at Duke and a loss in the quarterfinals to Pittsburgh was apparently enough to knock the Heels down a few seed lines.
The #6 seed looks like even more of a head-scratcher is when you look at some of the teams seeded higher than the Heels, like #5 seed VCU in the South. VCU was unranked most of the season until last week and only beat two top 25 opponents in the entire season. Another example is is Midwest #5 seed St. Louis, who had only one top 25 win this year compared to the Heels five wins against top 25 opponents.
It would appear that the committee put emphasis on the early season losses to UAB, Belmont, Miami and Wake Forest and also the fact that most of the wins during the Heels winning streak came against the bottom-tier teams of the ACC. If anything positive came from getting a #6 seed, it’s the fact that UNC avoided the dreaded 5/12 matchup that has an upset every year. So although the Heels got a seed that was probably two lines too low, it is not as bad as the #8 seed last season.
Bracket: B+: The East region is not as loaded as the Midwest Bracket of Death but it is still an impressive group of teams. Among the 16 teams, there are 8 conference tournament titles and 7 regular season titles. The bracket has arguably the weakest #1 and #2 seed in Virginia and Villanova. The Cavaliers moved up to the top seed after winning the ACC Tournament and regular season, which is always an impressive feat. However, the Wahoos only played the Heels once, they played Syracuse once, they lost their only regular season game at Duke, won two offensively challenged games with Pitt, lost at home to VCU, lost to Wisconsin (when they only scored 38 points), lost to Green Bay that did not make the field and got blown out by 35 to Tennessee, who plays in the First Four on Wednesday. The Cavaliers have enjoyed a great season but their overall resume is not as good as the other top seeds.
The Wildcats lived off their win over Kansas for most of the season, losing both games against ranked opponents Syracuse and Creighton followed by losing their opening game against Seton Hall. It would not be a surprise to see Villanova lose their 3rd round game to the winner of UConn and St. Joesph’s- two teams that know them very well.
The Big 12 Tournament champs Iowa State are the #3 seed in the region and they are one of the best offensive teams in the country, scoring 82.9 points a game, which is 6th in the nation, and 18.5 assists, which leads the nation. They have four players averaging over 10 points per game, including Big 12 Player of the Year Melvin Ejim. They are also led by Marshall transfer DeAndre Kane.
The Michigan State Spartans are the #4 seed and they are playing their best basketball since early in the season now that they are finally healthy. Coming into the season, many people said that Tom Izzo’s team was the best and most complete team in the country and they are starting to show people why. All five ESPN analysts picked them to win it all; they also could make an argument that they were seeded to low, especially having to travel to San Diego for their first two games despite winning the Big Ten Tournament.
The AAC regular season champions Cincinnati are the #5 seed and they will face #12 seed Harvard, this game is the popular pick for the 12/5 upset and for good reason. The Harvard Crimson returned all but one player on a team that was seeded 14th last year and upset New Mexico in the 2nd round. The Bearcats are similar to Virginia in that they play great defense, but sometimes have problems scoring and often rely too much Sean Kilpatrick.
The #7 seed UConn Huskies are one of only two teams to defeat overall #1 seed Florida this season and they will play A-10 Tournament champions the St. Joseph’s Hawks. The bottom if this bracket is also good- #14 seed North Central upset N.C. State earlier this season and only lost to Wichita State by 11, when leader scorer Jeremy Ingram scored 37 points. The East is a deep, balanced region with the top 6 seeds each having a realistic chance to make it to Jerry’s World in Dallas for the Final Four. Right now the favorite would have to be Michigan State, who looked like the best team in the country last weekend beating #2 seeds Wisconsin and Michigan. Also, MSU’s senior class has one last chance to reach a Final Four- something every four-year player has done in the Tom Izzo era.
The Tar Heels are the dark horse in this bracket. They can beat anybody in this region, but everyone knows they could loss to almost anyone in this region. Also, if the Tar Heels can beat Providence and most likely Iowa State, an Elite 8 run is possible for Coach Roy’s team.