VILLANOVA, Pa. (AP) — North Carolina is again a No. 1 seed. The Tar Heels are hopeful staying close to home can again spark another Final Four run.
The Tar Heels (28-6) are tops in the East Region of the NCAA Tournament and open Thursday against the Florida Gulf Coast-Fairleigh Dickinson winner about 30 miles away from campus in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Playing so close to campus has been fortuitous in the past for the Tar Heels — they played tournament games in Raleigh in 2008, and rolled to two easy wins in the opening weekend on their way to the Final Four. Under coach Roy Williams, the Tar Heels won their last national championship in 2009.
North Carolina won its 18th ACC championship, one shy of Duke's conference record.
"Coach (Dean) Smith said a long time ago you build your momentum once you get into the tournament," Williams said. "He talked about each tournament individually. We played pretty well five of the last six years we've been in the (ACC) tournament but haven't been able to finish it off. I'm hoping this will even give us some more confidence."
The East final is March 27 in Philadelphia, with the winner advancing to the Final Four.
Behind All-American forward Brice Johnson, the Tar Heels looked like title contenders in the ACC Tournament. Usually a force in March, the Tar Heels run toward a title could find a March darling from three seasons ago. Florida Gulf Coast is back in the tournament for the second time in program history and first since it reached the Sweet 16 in 2013.
Other matchups in the region include: No. 2 Xavier (27-5) vs. No 15 Weber State (26-8); No. 3 West Virginia (26-8) vs. 14 Stephen F. Austin (27-5); No. 4 Kentucky (26-8) vs. No. 13 Stony Brook (26-6); 5 Indiana (25-7) vs. No. 12 Chattanooga (29-5); No. 6 Notre Dame vs. the winner of Michigan-Tulsa game; No. 7 Wisconsin (20-12) vs. No. 10 Pittsburgh (21-11); and No. 8 USC (21-12) vs. No. 9 Providence (21-10).
Pitt entered the weekend with a tenuous grasp on a bid following a season in which the Panthers mixed solid wins (a rout of Duke last month) with baffling losses (17 points at home to N.C. State). They gathered to watch the selection show with a bit of trepidation only to have graduate transfer guard Sterling Smith set the room at ease by sharing the leaked bracket.
"We were wondering what we were going to do for that entire time; all of a sudden we knew rather quickly," coach Jamie Dixon said.
This is Pitt's first appearance in the tournament as a double-digit seed since 1985. The Panthers haven't survived past the first weekend since losing in the regional finals to Villanova in 2009, though Dixon remains bullish his streaky club can find the consistency it struggled while going 4-7 over its last 11 games.