North Carolina set to move from No. 1 preseason to missing NCAA Tournament

March 9, 2023;  Greensboro, North Carolina, USA;  North Carolina Tar Heels forward Leaky Black (1) drives as Virginia Cavaliers guard Armaan Franklin (4) defends in the first half of the ACC Tournament Quarterfinals at Greensboro Coliseum.  Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

North Carolina had already lost more games than any other No. 1 team in the AP preseason.

Now the underperforming Tar Heels are about to make more ignominious history.

A 68-59 loss to Virginia in the ACC Quarterfinals on Thursday night likely dashed North Carolina’s hopes of earning an NCAA Tournament bid. The Tar Heels have missed opportunities to improve on a resume that doesn’t compare well to other bubble teams.

North Carolina enters the selection Sunday with a 20-13 overall record and a dearth of marquee wins. The Tar Heels are just 1-9 in Quadrant 1 games, their only home win against Virginia on Feb. 25.

While North Carolina beat Michigan and Ohio State in non-conference games, those wins seemed more useful in December than they do now. The Wolverines are likely on the wrong end of the NCAA Tournament bubble and the Buckeyes finished second-to-bottom in the Big Ten.

After North Carolina lost at home to arch-rival Duke in its regular-season finale, the Tar Heels entered the ACC tournament needing a deep run to maintain a realistic hope of getting a candidacy for the NCAA. They beat 10th-seeded Boston College 85-61 in their opener, but second-seeded Virginia opened a 10-point lead midway through the second half and pushed back every North Carolina race thereafter.

While hot college basketball teams fail every season, North Carolina is by far the most disappointing preseason No. 1 team in the modern era of men’s college basketball.

Every other preseason No. 1 has made the NCAA Tournament since the field grew to 64 in 1985. Nearly two-thirds of those teams have landed No. 1 seeds, and all but three got the No. 3 seeds or better. Only 2013-14 Kentucky failed to secure at least a No. 5 seed, and those Wildcats led by Julius Randle salvaged an underperforming regular season with a run out of nowhere of a header from series #8 at the national title game.

North Carolina missing the NCAA Tournament would have been hard to fathom just a few months ago. With all but one starter returning from last year’s national finalists and a prized transfer to fill that vacancy, the Tar Heels looked poised to pick up where they left off last year when they put end Mike Krzyzewski’s legendary career in the Final Four and nearly won the national title two nights later.

What went wrong for North Carolina? In a word, everything.

The cohesion and hunger the Tar Heels displayed last March is gone. The pieces also didn’t seem to fit together. Armando Bacot remained one of the best big men in college basketball and Leaky Black was still an elite glue guy, but North Carolina missed the 3-point shooting and toughness of Brady Manek and Caleb Love and RJ Davis pulled the Tar Heels in too many games. .

North Carolina has shot just over 31% from behind the arc this season, 322nd in the nation. North West transfer Pete Nance couldn’t come close to replicating Manek’s reliable 40.3% 3-point shot.

A year ago, North Carolina languished on the bubble until February before catching fire for the next six weeks. Many kept waiting and waiting for a similar run to end this season, but these Tar Heels didn’t have it in them.

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