UNC, Duke, NCSU and NCCU are all heading to the big dance if the NCAA Championship. Here’s the breakdown.
67. North Carolina Central Eagles
16 seed, Dayton, Ohio: Wednesday 6:40 p.m., Tru TV, versus Texas Southern(16)
LeVelle Moton has led his alma mater to its third NCAA tournament appearance in the past five years with another MEAC tournament championship captured with a 71-63 win over Hampton on Saturday. His phone should be ringing a lot this offseason.
41. NC State Wolfpack
9 seed, Wichita, KS: Thursday 4:15 p.m., TV TBD, versus Seton Hall (8)
A few years ago, Kevin Keatts was a high school coach searching for a path to the collegiate ranks. Now, he’s the first-year coach at NC State who just led his squad to the NCAA tournament, something Mark Gottfried couldn’t do with Dennis Smith Jr. on the roster last season. Keatts’ first-year résumé includes victories over Arizona, Penn State, Duke, Clemson and North Carolina. The last-minute NCAA clearance of Braxton Beverly (9.8 PPG), who transferred from Ohio State after Thad Matta’s firing in June, has enhanced the roster. Omer Yurtseven, a 7-footer who had made 22 of his 43 3-point attempts, is the one who spaces the floor and demands double-teams.
6. North Carolina Tar Heels
2 seed, Charlotte: Friday 2:45 p.m., CBS, versus Lipscomb (15)
Roy Williams is chasing his third consecutive trip to the national title game. Two years ago, the Tar Heels lost on a Kris Jenkins buzzer-beater. In 2016-17, the Tar Heels outlasted Gonzaga in a rough championship win in Glendale, Arizona. After losing a fabulous frontcourt, a step back would have made sense for UNC. In late February, the Tar Heels lost to Miami on a wild buzzer-beater and couldn’t stop Duke in the second half of their second regular-season affair. Beyond those moments, however, North Carolina was arguably the best team in America that month. Luke Maye leads a squad that still collects an enormous number of offensive rebounds. Yet UNC’s work from beyond the arc (39.5 percent allowed in ACC play and 35.7 percent success rate on offense) could seal its fate in the NCAA tournament.
3. Duke Blue Devils
2 seed, Pittsburgh: Thursday 2:45 p.m., CBS, versus Iona (15)
Here’s what we learned in Duke’s win over North Carolina in late February: If the Blue Devils and the rest of field play their best basketball in the NCAA tournament, Duke will probably be the last team standing in San Antonio. In the second half of that UNC win, the Blue Devils outscored the Tar Heels 49-29. Think about that. North Carolina could earn its third consecutive trip to the Final Four. And Duke just toyed with Roy Williams’ squad after the break. Marvin Bagley III is an impossible matchup, and Grayson Allen is unstoppable right now.