UNC Basketball: Tar Heels get off the bubble as Duke claws its way on

The UNC basketball program has worked its way off the bubble, while the Duke Blue Devils have clawed their way onto it and into contention.

With six wins in their last eight games, the North Carolina Tar Heels have gotten themselves off the proverbial NCAA bubble, and into a fairly safe position with just two weeks left in the regular season.

The Tar Heels’ work isn’t finished, however, as they have opportunities to both solidify or destroy their NCAA Tournament hopes. But with wins in at least two of their remaining four games, it seems reasonable to assume that the Tobacco Road blue blood will earn an at-large bid to this year’s big dance.

North Carolina’s impromptu mid-week game against Marquette won’t strengthen its case for postseason play, but wins against Florida State, Syracuse and Duke would. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi already has the Tar Heels listed as a 9-seed in his latest iteration of Bracketology, seemingly safely removed from the possibility of missing the tournament.

Similar to the Tar Heels, the Duke Blue Devils have strengthened their NCAA Tournament hopes over the past couple of weeks. The Blue Devils have, of course, done it with four consecutive conference wins after losing six of their prior eight games. Mostly notably, Duke knocked off No. 7 Virginia last week, and that was just days after the departure of former 5-star recruit and McDonald’s All-American Jalen Johnson left the team.

Lunardi now has Duke pegged as one of the first four teams outside of the tournament bracket, alongside Stanford, Connecticut and Richmond. They’re just behind a “last four in” that includes Indiana, Xavier, Minnesota and Colorado State. There’s little doubt in my mind at this point that the Blue Devils can’t play their way into the tournament, especially with games against Louisville and North Carolina ahead of them.

That ever-important matchup between crosstown rivals Duke and North Carolina will take place on March 6 at the Dean Smith Center, and will give the NCAA Tournament committee one final look at both teams prior to the ACC Tournament the following week. My guess is that the Tar Heels will have already played themselves into a postseason berth with or without a victory over their hated rivals, but the Blue Devils may need the difficult road victory on their resume in order to get in — unless they want to pin their hopes on a deep conference tournament run.

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