ONE SHINING MOMENT? Carolinas colleges and universities have annually made trips to the NCAA tournament

By Richard Walker

The NCAA annually plays the song “One Shining Moment” with highlights of that year’s NCAA tournament.

The opening tip of Charlotte’s 1977 Final Four game against Marquette in Atlanta. Pictured for Charlotte are Kevin King (25), Lew Massey (23) and Cedric Maxwell (jumping center).

More often than not, Carolinas colleges are prominently profiled in the segment.

That doesn’t appear to be changing in this most unusual of college basketball seasons.

Winthrop clinched a berth on Sunday, Appalachian State and UNC-Greensboro clinched berths on Monday night and ACC schools Clemson and North Carolina appear to be strong at-large candidates if they don’t clinch a berth winning their ongoing league tournament.

The Carolinas love affair began with the first NCAA championship tournament, even though that start involved a foreshadowing of things to come.

Clemson won its first and only conference men’s basketball tournament title when it won the 1939 Southern Conference championship. But the Tigers forsook a NCAA tournament appearance to focus on spring football and regular season champion Wake Forest filled the Southern Conference’s tournament spot and promptly lost their first NCAA tournament game. In the years since, Clemson as much as any school in the Carolinas has embraced football more than basketball – and it has three NCAA football titles to its credit.

Shortly after Wake Forest “filled in” for Clemson, Carolinas teams had made pursuing NCAA tournament bids an annual endeavor. And since 1959, at least one team from the Carolinas has played in every NCAA tournament and in all but one tournament since 1950.

The high water marks came in the 1997, 1998 and 2018 tournaments when eight teams from the Carolinas played in the NCAA’s signature event.

Much of the attention has been focused on title-winners and the state North Carolina has enjoyed three schools winning a combined 13 titles – North Carolina with six, Duke with five and N.C. State with two.

But winning isn’t the only excitement that’s created.

Gardner-Webb, a first-time participant in 2019, packed its student center for NCAA Selection Sunday for a tournament pairings viewing party.

And while the Bulldogs led at halftime against eventual national champion Virginia before losing in their first round game, Gardner-Webb’s appearance in the tournament is considered one of the school’s top all-time athletic moments.

The starting lineups as shown on CBS for Gardner-Webb’s 2019 NCAA tournament game against Virginia at Columbia, S.C.

In losing, Gardner-Webb suffered what many non-ACC schools have endured by qualifying as tournament champions of what is called a considered a “minor” conference.

North Carolina A&T has been seeded No. 16 (or last in its respective region) eight of the 10 times it has qualified. South Carolina State has been seeded No. 15 or No. 16 all five times it has appeared in the tournament. Coastal Carolina and UNC-Asheville have been No. 15 or No. 16 in each of their all four appearances. And like Gardner-Webb, Campbell, East Carolina and Western Carolina were a No. 16 seed in their lone appearances.

Even Davidson, which has advanced to the Elite Eight three times, has been a double digit seed in all 10 of its appearances since 1986; The NCAA began seeding teams in 1979.

Gardner-Webb also faced another NCAA tourney hardship – meeting the eventual national champion.

While North Carolina has been a No. 1 seed 17 times and Duke a No. 1 seed 15 times, they’ve also faced their share of eventual national champions.

Duke has been eliminated 12 times by the eventual champion, six times in the actual national title game.

North Carolina has lost 10 times to the eventual champion, with five of those losses coming in title games.

North Carolina A&T, N.C. State and Wake Forest has lost to the eventual champion two times each.

And Campbell, Charlotte, College of Charleston, Davidson, East Carolina, South Carolina State and UNC-Asheville have lost to the eventual winner once apiece.

Which schools have had the quickest NCAA success?

Charlotte and Clemson with three straight wins in their first tournament appearances.

Charlotte won its three straight to become the NCAA’s youngest Final Four participant in history in 1977 before losing to eventual champion Marquette in the Final Four in Atlanta. And Clemson won its first three games in 1980 before losing a regional final to eventual runner-up UCLA.

James Worthy waves to fans during a parade in his honor in Gastonia after North Carolina’s 1982 NCAA title victory in which he was named Final Four MVP.

N.C. State won its first two games. And Davidson and UNC-Asheville won their first NCAA tourney games.

All other Carolinas schools lost their inugural NCAA tournament contests.

Local products have played for Carolinas NCAA tournament participants through the years, including current Appalachian State starters Adrian Delph and James Lewis, Jr.; Delph is a 2018 Kings Mountain High graduate who also played at Gastonia’s Piedmont Community Charter and Lewis played at East Gaston and Gaston Day.

Three local products played on national championship teams, including 1982 MVP James Worthy for North Carolina; Worthy is a 1979 Ashbrook High graduate.

David Thompson, a 1971 Crest High graduate, was a key performer for N.C. State in 1974 and 2014 Huss graduate Aaron Rohlman played for North Carolina in 2017.

Other local products who played on Carolinas NCAA tournament teams are Charlotte’s Rod Howard (Ashbrook 1993 graduate) and Tripp Miller (East Lincoln 2002), Clemson’s Gabe DeVoe (Shelby 2014), East Carolina’s Kevin Armstrong (Huss 1991), North Carolina’s Mike Guzek (Huss 1993) and Kris Lang (Huss 1998), North Carolina A&T’s Tyrone Brice (Huss 1991), N.C. State’s Jerry Hunt (Crest 1971), Kenny Poston (Cherryville 1985) and Migjen Bakalli (South Point 1990), UNC-Greensboro’s Brandon Beck (South Point 1999) and Sean McCarthy (Ashbrook 2001), UNC-Wilmington’s Stewart Hare (East Gaston 1997), Wake Forest’s John Toms (Shelby 1980) and Keyshawn Woods (Gaston Day) and Winthrop’s Robbie Waldrop (South Point).

Here’s the list of NCAA tournament appearances and win-loss records for all NCAA Division I schools in the Carolinas:

Appearances Record
(North Carolina)
Appalachian State 2 0-2
Campbell 1 0-1
Charlotte 11 7-12
Davidson 14 8-15
Duke 43 114-38
East Carolina 2 0-2
Elon 0 0-0
Gardner-Webb 1 0-1
High Point 0 0-0
North Carolina 50 126-47
North Carolina A&T 10 1-10
N.C. Central 4 0-4
N.C. State 27 37-26
UNC-Asheville 2 2-4
UNC-Greensboro 3 0-3
UNC-Wilmington 6 1-6
Wake Forest 23 28-23
Western Carolina 1 0-1

Former Crest standout David Thompson with the 1974 NCAA tournament championship net following N.C. State’s win over Marquette in Greensboro.

(South Carolina)
Charleston Southern 1 0-1
The Citadel 0 0-0
Clemson 12 11-12
Coastal Carolina 4 0-4
College of Charleston 5 1-5
Furman 6 1-7
Presbyterian 0 0-0
South Carolina 9 8-10
South Carolina State 5 0-5
USC Upstate 0 0-0
Winthrop 10 1-10
Wofford 5 1-5