NCAA tournament: North Carolina turns down NIT after missing out on NCAA field

After a historically disappointing season, North Carolina is passing on the NIT.

UNC basketball announced Sunday evening that it won't accept an invitation to the NIT, college basketball's secondary postseason tournament featuring teams that didn't make the NCAA tournament field. It did so shortly after the NCAA tournament revealed that its field didn't include the Tar Heels, who advanced to last year's championship final against Kansas. Dayton likewise declined an NIT bid, citing "health concerns" for an injury-plagued roster.

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North Carolina became the first preseason No. 1 team to miss the NCAA tournament since it expanded to 64 teams in 1985. Head coach Hubert Davis addressed the decision to skip the NIT in statement.

"All season, our focus and goal have been on being the best team we can possibly become and reaching our full potential to give us another opportunity to compete, play for and win an NCAA championship. ...

"Many factors go into postseason play, and we believe now is the time to focus on moving ahead, preparing for next season and the opportunity to again compete for ACC and NCAA championships."

North Carolina returned the core of last season's roster and entered 2022-23 as the nation's No. 1 team. Five weeks into the season, it tumbled out of the top 25 thanks to a four-game losing streak culminated by a loss to Virginia Tech on Dec. 4. It briefly returned to the top 25 after December wins over Ohio State and Michigan, but was knocked out of the rankings for good following a Dec. 30 loss to Pitt.

Jan 26, 2022; Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA;  North Carolina Tar Heels head coach Hubert Davis with forward Armando Bacot (5) in the first half at Dean E. Smith Center. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
Will Armando Bacot return for a fifth season alongside head coach Hubert Davis? (Bob Donnan/Reuters)

A seventh-place finish in the ACC capped by a season-ending home loss to Duke ensured that North Carolina needed a deep run in the conference tournament to secure an NCAA bid. The Tar Heels instead lost in the quarterfinals to Virginia, all but sealing their fate outside the NCAA field. They finish the season 20-13 with an 11-9 ACC record. The 13 losses are the most ever for a preseason AP No. 1 team.

With the season over, North Carolina shifts its focus to a pressure-packed offseason filled with questions about next season's roster makeup. Junior starting guards Caleb Love and RJ Davis are eligible to return, as is senior All-ACC center Armando Bacot, who has the option to return for a fifth season because of the lost COVID-19 season.

None of the three project as high NBA draft picks, and they could be further incentivized to return by NIL opportunities.