College Basketball Bubble Watch

Updated: February 8, 2010, 4:09 PM ET
By Mark Schlabach | ESPN.com


Tar Heels in danger of earning inglorious distinction

Editor's note: This file has been updated to include all games through Sunday, Feb. 7.

Only twice in the past 21 years has a defending national champion failed to play in the NCAA tournament the following season.

Kansas, the 1988 national champion, was ineligible to play in the '89 tournament because of NCAA probation. Florida, which won back-to-back national titles in 2006 and '07, failed to make the tournament in '08 and hasn't been back to college basketball's biggest stage since.

Barring a complete turnaround, North Carolina is about to become the third defending national champ to accomplish the dubious feat this season.

Bubble Insider

North Carolina isn't the only school with big-time bubble trouble. Insider gives you a closer look at the fringes of the field, explaining why the Pac-10 shouldn't expect a second bid to the Big Dance this season.
Bubble Insider: Cal dancing by itself?

Don't look for the Tar Heels in this week's Bubble Watch. They're not there. North Carolina was routed at Maryland 92-71 on Sunday, losing for the sixth time in its past seven games.

And with No. 9 Duke coming to the Smith Center in Chapel Hill, N.C., on Wednesday night, the Tar Heels' struggles probably won't end any time soon.

"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."

The Tar Heels are 13-10 overall, 2-6 in the ACC standings. Even more stunning: The Tar Heels are a half-game ahead of Miami and NC State for last place in the conference.

UNC's title defense started well, as the Tar Heels won 11 of their first 14 games. They beat Ohio State 77-73 in the semifinals of the 2K Sports Classic at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 19 and defeated Michigan State 89-82 at home on Dec. 1. The Tar Heels narrowly lost at Kentucky, falling 68-66 at Rupp Arena on Dec. 5.

But the team that lost stars Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington and Danny Green from the 2008-09 national champions somehow lost its way when the calendar flipped to 2010. The Tar Heels lost at College of Charleston 82-79 in overtime on Jan. 4 and have won only two games since.

UNC lost at Clemson by 19 points and at Maryland by 21. The Tar Heels can't even protect the house that Dean Smith built, losing to Wake Forest by 13 points and to Virginia by 15 points at home.

North Carolina begins the second half of ACC play staring up at nine teams in the conference standings. Worse, the Tar Heels sit at No. 79 in the Ratings Percentage Index rankings, behind teams such as Sam Houston State, Louisiana Tech and Oakland.

A season like this won't get the Tar Heels even a cup of coffee with the NCAA selection committee on Selection Sunday.

Even if their jersey colors are Carolina blue.