UNC Basketball: Life on the Bubble: Can UNC Make the Tournament?

Feb 4, 2023; Durham, North Carolina, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels guard Caleb Love (2) is harassed by Duke Blue Devils fans as he tries to inbound the ball during the second half at Cameron Indoor Stadium. The Blue Devils won 63-57. Mandatory Credit: Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 4, 2023; Durham, North Carolina, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels guard Caleb Love (2) is harassed by Duke Blue Devils fans as he tries to inbound the ball during the second half at Cameron Indoor Stadium. The Blue Devils won 63-57. Mandatory Credit: Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports /

Let’s take a look at what the UNC basketball team must do to make the NCAA Tournament with just five games remaining in the regular season.

While the season has not gone according to plan for the UNC basketball team thus far, this group of Tar Heels knows better than anyone that anything can happen in March.  Unfortunately, like last year, Carolina is in a position where they are in desperate need of a strong regular season finish to even make it to the “Big Dance”.  We take a look at what the Heels must do to put themselves in a position to end up on the right side of this year’s “bubble” below.

The Current Projections

ESPN: 11 Seed (3rd to Last Team In)

CBS: 11 Seed (3rd to Last Team In) *Updated Prior to the Miami game

FOX: 11 Seed

USA Today: 11 Seed (4th to Last Team In)

When looking at the current projections, it is very clear that UNC is firmly on the bubble.  While most projections have the Tar Heels barely on the right side at this moment, there is no telling what the committee would do if the season ended today.  Also, note that the last four teams in the bracket would play in the “First Four” in Dayton.

The Numbers

UNC Resume Breakdown

Overall Record: 16-10

Conference Record: 8-7 (9th in ACC)

VS Quad One: 0-9

VS Quad Two: 6-1

VS Quad Three: 5-0

Vs Quad Four: 5-0

Net Ranking: 45

KenPom Ranking: 38

Strength of Schedule: 31

When looking at Carolina’s resume, a few things stand out.  One major negative is the fact that the Tar Heels already have ten losses, which matches their total (after losses in the ACC and NCAA Tournaments) from last season.  Another thing that jumps out is the fact that the Heels are winless against “Quad One” opponents, which is a metric the committee looks at (no matter how dumb it seems at times).  These numbers show that similarly to last year’s regular season, Carolina has had trouble picking up any signature wins against high-level competition.  One other number that looks bad on UNC’s resume is currently sitting at 9th place in an ACC that is not as good as usual.

On the positive side, Carolina has taken care of business for the most part against average/below-average opponents.  The Heels are 6-1 in “Quad Two”, with the only loss coming at home against Pittsburgh by one point.  UNC has avoided any “bad losses” by remaining undefeated in games against “Quad Three” and “Quad Four” opponents.  The Tar Heels also have a good strength of schedule, and the computer rankings have them in the mix for the Tournament regardless of the fact that they lack a true signature win.

The Upcoming Schedule

With five games still left on the schedule, what is the importance of each of Carolina’s remaining games in regard to their tournament hopes?

@ NC State

The Wolfpack is currently ranked in the AP Top 25 and comfortably in the Top 75 of the NET, making this an opportunity for UNC to pick up their first “Quad One” signature win of the season.  A win would likely move the Heels past a couple of teams in current bracket projections and potentially out of “First Four” territory for the time being.  A loss wouldn’t be the end of all hope, but it would likely drop the Heels out of any updated projections at 8-8 in the league and 0-10 against the first quadrant.

@ Notre Dame

Sitting at 2-13 in the ACC and 10-16 overall, the Irish have had a tough year.  A victory over the Irish wouldn’t do much to improve Carolina’s resume, but a loss would be devastating.  A loss in South Bend would leave UNC with practically no margin for error the rest of the way.  The matchup with the Irish will have the pressure of being a “can’t lose” game.

VS Virginia

UVA is currently ranked 7th in the AP Poll and safely in the Top 30 of the NET, making this another “Quad One” opportunity for the Heels.  Of the matchups remaining on the schedule, this offers the best opportunity for a signature win against a potential top-ten team.  A loss wouldn’t damage UNC’s resume much, but Carolina needs to take advantage of some of these opportunities.

@ Florida State

This will be a short “Saturday-Monday” turnaround similar to what UNC had last week.  This matchup with the ‘Noles is similar to the Notre Dame game, as it can do far more harm than good for Carolina’s resume.  Both Notre Dame and FSU are capable but underachieving teams, and losses in either game would leave the Heels in a very rough spot moving forward.

VS Duke

The Blue Devils currently sit just outside of the Top 30 of the NET, making this a “Quad Two” game that could move into “Quad One” territory.  Regardless, the Blue Devils will be in the NCAA Tournament and this game will offer the Tar Heels a final chance to make a statement prior to the conference tournament.  The UNC-Duke game is always big, and this one could have a postseason berth on the line for Carolina.

ACC Tournament

It’s too early to tell exactly what UNC will need to do in Greensboro to make the “Big Dance”.  Obviously, it will depend on what happens between now and then.  Either way, it would be advisable for UNC to pick up at least a win or two.  Of course, if UNC were to win the ACC Tournament, they would receive the automatic bid to the NCAAs.

Other Things to Monitor

-UNC’s three non-conference losses are all against teams that are currently ranked in the AP Poll.  Alabama is ranked 1st, Indiana is 14th, and Iowa State is 19th.  It would have been huge if Carolina picked up a win in one of these games, but they shouldn’t be punished for scheduling them.

-Speaking of the loss to Alabama, it will be interesting to see if the committee gives UNC any credit for taking the current number-one team in the nation to four overtimes.  Again, this was a missed opportunity, but it should show that the Heels can play with anyone.

-Carolina’s non-conference victories over Ohio State and Michigan have both aged poorly.  Both teams have had extremely disappointing seasons.  The Ohio State game isn’t far from becoming a “quad one” game again, but I wouldn’t count on it given how the Buckeyes have played of late.

-UNC’s victory over the College of Charleston is still a good one, as the Cougars are the favorite to win their conference and could be a tournament team.

-There is no telling how much (or if) the committee will take into account Armando Bacot’s injuries in the losses at UVA and VT.

-There is also the potential for the bubble to shrink, based on bid stealers.  For example, if a team other than Gonzaga or Saint Mary’s wins the WCC, that would likely take a bid away from a bubble team as the automatic qualifier will go to a team that was not going to make the field as an at-large selection.


Long story short, there is clearly a lot of work to do for UNC to solidify its status as an NCAA Tournament team.  There are opportunities left on the schedule, but it is pretty much now or never for the Heels to take advantage of them.  Carolina also really can’t afford any slip-ups against the likes of Notre Dame or Florida State.

If I had to make a prediction for Carolina’s NCAA Tournament hopes based on how they finish the regular season it would go like this:

  • 5-0: Welcome back to the Dance, ACC Tournament could improve NCAA seeding
  • 4-1: Should be safely in, don’t slip up in the first ACC Tournament game to be sure
  • 3-2: Firmly on the bubble, likely need to reach at least the ACC semifinals.  Could be headed to Dayton.
  • 2-3: Wrong side of the bubble, need to pick up big wins en route to the ACC Championship at least
  • 1-4 or 0-5: Have to win ACC Tournament

This Tar Heel team is not afraid of the big stage and knows that they are capable of shocking the world in March.  The question over the next few weeks, however, is if they will be able to earn the opportunity to be in that position again.

dark. Next. Hansbrough Comments on Miami Loss

Follow us @KeepingItHeel on Twitter and like our fan page on Facebook for continued coverage of UNC basketball news, updates, and recruiting.