Without opening the can of worms that is the debate as to “which U.S. state has the best college basketball,” it is safe to say that North Carolina is among the very best. Traditionally, that claim has stemmed from Tobacco Road, the informal name for the state’s four Atlantic Coast Conference schools — Duke University, the University of North Carolina, North Carolina State University and Wake Forest University.

This season, two of those schools, Duke and North Carolina, appear to be locks for the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. Those schools could have several friends from the Old North State come March Madness. North Carolina is home to 18 Division I schools, which is fourth behind only California, Texas and New York. Per the most recent edition of “ESPN Bracketology,” five schools from North Carolina are projected to earn a bid, with others potentially following.

Outside of Duke and North Carolina, let’s take a look at potential mid-major teams that could make it to the big dance:


Davidson College

That 4-10 nonconference schedule? Seems like a fluke. The Wildcats rolled through Southern Conference play with a 15-1 mark, with the only loss coming to Elon University in overtime Jan. 16. Davidson got revenge with an 86-69 pasting of the Phoenix last Saturday. The Wildcats are playing their best basketball of the year at the right time, with four players averaging double figure scoring. Despite all this, Davidson needs to win the Southern Conference tournament to qualify for March Madness. If they do win the SoCon, the Wildcats will likely be a No. 15 seed.


North Carolina Central University

The Eagles knocked off NC State and Appalachian State University early on in the season and have not looked back, breezing to a 14-1 mark thus far in Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference play. Only three of those conference games have seen NCCU win by single digits. Senior guard Jeremy Ingram averages 20.3 points per game for the Eagles, who need to win the MEAC tournament to go to March Madness. Just like Davidson, NCCU will likely earn a No. 15 seed but could be an upset pick.

High Point University

Could you imagine what would happen to High Point if they went to March Madness before Elon does? The school down the road, always trying to compare itself to Elon, has a strong chance to win the Big South Conference. High Point has won six straight and 10 of 11 games to get to 12-4 in Big South play. Four Panthers average 12 or more points per game, but there is still a lot of work to do. High Point will not be going anywhere without winning the Big South, a league with seven teams between 10-6 and 12-4. If the Panthers do win, they will likely be destined for a no. 16 seed and a play-in game berth.


Elon University

That week in March has arrived. For the team that was picked to win the Southern Conference, the season has not been smooth sailing for Elon. The Phoenix is limping into the Southern Conference tournament having lost two straight home games to Wofford College and Davidson. If there was ever a time for Elon to put it all together, now is it. “Do or die” is here. If Elon can upset Davidson and sandwich two other wins around it, the Phoenix will be a No. 16 seed, likely headed to a play-in game, and a lot of pain will be forgotten.

The University of North Carolina at Charlotte

Charlotte is an extremely streaky team. They currently sit at 15-13, yet only 6-9 in Conference USA play. This is a team that defeated Kansas State University and the University of Michigan en route to winning the Puerto Rico Tip-Off in November. Charlotte picked up a road win in conference at the University of Texas at El Paso, but then hit a skid, losing six straight between Feb. 7 and Feb. 27. If Charlotte has another run during the C-USA tournament, they could find themselves sneaking in.

Western Carolina University

The Catamounts get a nod in this piece because of their stinginess come March. Five seniors give the folks from Cullowhee the veteran presence that wins games. Combine that with the fact that the Catamounts always play extremely well at home, and the Southern Conference tournament is in Asheville, less than an hour from Cullowhee. Western Carolina might be the team that could take down Davidson, but it’ll have to get by Elon first. If WCU does win their first two games, it should be able to win a third and earn a no. 16 seed.

Gardner-Webb University

Gardner-Webb is one of those teams in the logjam in the Big South. The Runnin’ Bulldogs wound up 10-6 in conference play, but last year a 15-20 overall Liberty University team won that league. Given the craziness of March, Gardner-Webb could be the team to win the Big South and earn a no. 16 seed.