The NCAA Tournament “bubble.”
It’s a term feared by college basketball enthusiasts and teams alike as it means only one thing — uncertainty.
Is a team in the tournament, or are they out? No one knows.
And, ever since North Carolina’s back-to-back defeats against Miami and Wake Forest back in mid-January, it appeared this team’s postseason fate would be determined by the raging uncertainty that is the “bubble.”
But, after storming into Cameron Indoor Stadium and spoiling Mike Krzyzewski's farewell game, 94-81, the Tar Heels’ two-month long bubble has officially been popped.
With the win, the question no longer becomes if the Tar Heels will get into the NCAA Tournament, but rather where they will be seeded come Selection Sunday.
The selection process
Building a field of 68 teams is a tall task, and one that’s generated by a meticulous formula.
First up, you have your automatic qualifiers or teams who have won their respective conference’s postseason tournament. A total of 32 teams make up this department and if UNC can notch three straight wins in Brooklyn, they'll join this esteemed group.
The remaining 36 spots are left for at-large bid takers. These spots are determined by using metrics and the interpretation the committee gains from these analytics.
The NCAA Evaluation Tool, or NET rankings, system — one that recently saw North Carolina jump six spots after the win — stands above the rest in the eyes of the committee.
The NET ranking's recent changes in May 2020 helped boost the metric’s validity to the top analytic system.
Based around the idea of quadrant wins and losses, the Tar Heels' season seemed to be wrapped around one prized possession — a Quadrant 1 win. The cream of the crop in victories, a Quadrant 1 win is, simply put, beating a good team on the road, and an even better team at home or a neutral site.
Unfortunately for the Tar Heels, and the ACC as a whole, a down year for the conference has eliminated the opportunity to compete in as many Quadrant 1 games compared to past seasons. In the few opportunities North Carolina did have to notch a marquee win, road struggles and inconsistency lead to a 0-7 Quadrant 1 record heading into the final weeks of the season.
Oh, how two weeks can change a season.
Within this short span, the Tar Heels marched into Blacksburg, Va., and picked up its first Quadrant 1 win against Virginia Tech on Feb. 19, and battled for a season-defining win over Duke on Saturday.
The Tar Heels are now near locks for the NCAA Tournament, but NET rankings could help forecast where they will be seeded.
On Sunday, North Carolina catapulted up to No. 32 in the NET. This position currently projects the Tar Heels anywhere between an 8-10 seed.
However, the ACC Tournament could change everything, for better or for worse.
With potential matchups against Virginia, Notre Dame and Duke looming in the future, the Tar Heels could have a plethora of opportunities to add multiple Quadrant 1 or 2 wins to their tournament resume.
Moreover, if UNC can string together a few of these crucial wins, their seed ceiling could surpass its current ranking.
And, despite this seeming unlikely and certainly not expected, one lesson can be learned from Saturday's outcome in Durham.
It's March. Expect the unexpected.
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