Four North Carolina universities -- all located in the Triangle -- have earned bids to this year's National Collegiate Athletic Association Tournament. The highest seed is Duke. The Blue Devils are third in the Midwest region. But the Atlantic Coast Conference runner-up will open tournament play against Mercer University at PNC Arena in Raleigh on Friday.
Eagles head coach LaVelle Moton said his motivation for this moment began before the season when he printed out the schedule for his squad.
"We didn't stop at the regular season championship," Moton says "We didn't stop at the MEAC Championship. We stopped at the N-C-double-A Final Four championship. That's our goal. Now we know it's a long shot, but at least we're in the party so once you get out there, there's no telling what will happen. History has proven that."
Tar Heels head to the dance, too
The North Carolina Tar Heels will also travel to San Antonio. They are the sixth seed in the East region and will take on 11th-seeded Providence College Friday. UNC lost in the quarterfinal round of the ACC Tournament last week. But head Coach Roy Williams say that doesn't mean you should count out his team.
"My teams have taken me to seven Final Fours..and only one time did we win the conference tournament," says Williams. "But every one of those other times, we tried like crazy to win the sucker. That's three or four here and three or four at Kansas... I can't remember how many we won but I like to win. And I think that gives you even more confidence."
The Wolfpack is in
Starting earliest in tournament play among the four teams is N.C. State. The 12th-seeded Wolfpack will play in an opening-round matchup versus Xavier Tuesday night in Dayton, Ohio. The winner will advance to take on Saint Louis University on Thursday.
N.C. State head coach Mark Gottfried made the case for a tournament berth after his team beat Syracuse in the ACC Tournament.
"We're not the same team now that we were in November and December," Gottfried said. "When you play and you lose 80 percent of all your scoring from a year ago, it's going to take a while to figure yourselves out. I look around the country and figure out how many teams can go win at Pittsburgh like we did..and at Tennessee and all the things we've done."
Although they didn't make the NCAA Tournament field, two other North Carolina schools will continue playing this postseason. Davidson College and High Point University both earned bids to the National Invitation Tournament.