Tuesday, February 09, 2010

North Carolina Could Miss The Dance

Only twice in the last 21 years has a defending NCAA hoops champion failed to make the field of 64/65/whatever the next season. One of those (Kansas in 1989) was ineligible for the tournament because of probation.

This year, North Carolina is perfectly eligible for the event, but there's a really good chance they won't qualify. The Tar Heels are near the bottom of the ACC entering the week, and there appears to be little hope for a quick turnaround.

Even if the play gets better, UNC may have already done irreparable damage to their NCAA chances. Their RPI sits at No. 79. As noted by ESPN, that places them below such luminaries as Sam Houston State and Louisiana Tech.

For North Carolina coach Roy Williams, who has been nothing short of awesome in his tenure as a head coach in this sport, confusion reigns supreme.

Yes, we figured Carolina would be down a bit from last year's overwhelming high, but we didn't think it would be anything at all like this.

"In 21 years as a head coach, I've never been in this spot," UNC coach Roy Williams told reporters in College Park, Md., on Sunday.

"Somewhere, somehow, I've got to help the kids get out of it. But 2-6 is not comfortable. It's not good."

Oh, and rival Duke comes to town Wednesday, part of ESPN's well-timed Rivalry Week.

Good luck.

With only North Carolina State and Miami keeping them from the ACC cellar, and noted ESPN bracket expert Joe Lunardi not even listing North Carolina among the top eight teams out of his field, this is more than just an uphill battle UNC is left to fight.

I've seen UNC a few times, including their riveting second half comeback at home against Georgia Tech. Yes, it's a game they lost, but the Heels were hopelessly behind, went on an amazing run, and actually made Tech sweat quite a bit to get the narrow win. While they didn't get the "W" on that day, it looked as if they could recover quickly and stay in the ACC race.

Since then, they've lost four of five, and three of those were by double digits.

Even if the Tar Heels can beat Duke twice, it's hard to imagine them doing any better than 5-3 over their last eight games. That places them at 7-9 in the ACC, 18-13 overall as the league tournament starts.

Yes, this is North Carolina, but they aren't going to magically jump into the list of top 40 at-large candidates. They would still need to win the ACC Tournament to get in.

While it sounds weird to say, it might be time to seriously consider the reality of an NCAA Tournament without North Carolina.

And, no, you can't blame this one on Bill Guthridge or Matt Doherty.

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