The road to a prosperous run through the NCAA tournament is laced with bumps and snags, and there's very little that a team -- no matter how talented -- can do about them.
Injuries can happen at any time and to anyone, but what is guaranteed is that every team will have to go on the road, into hostile environments, to really test their mettle.
True contenders can get scraped and dinged along the way, but the ones meant for a long season find ways to win, especially in the heart of conference play. The pretenders ... well, they're usually discovered about this time of year when a pesky, early-week road game trips them all the way up and down the court.
Say hello -- or goodbye -- to No. 7 West Virginia and No. 10 North Carolina.
Two teams teasing us with top-10 rankings and bloated hype, each revealed Monday that they aren't quite ready for the big stage in 2018.
North Carolina, the defending national champs, got run over 80-69 at Virginia Tech. Outside of Joel Berry and Luke Maye each scoring 23 for UNC, no other player scored more than five points. The loss snapped a four-game winning streak that had us thinking the Tar Heels had figured things out.
A couple of hours later, it was West Virginia getting upended 82-73 at TCU, which has been teetering along the line of contender and pretender since the start of Big 12 play.
Two teams with conference-title aspirations and the talent to make deep runs in the tournament were flat and taken out of their games in raucous road games on national TV.
Few people were going to pick West Virginia or North Carolina to win it all, but to even get into that conversation, you have to win games like these. You have to overcome the annoyances and perils of road environments and play your game. Rhythm is critical when the opposing crowd starts to feel closer to you and the other team starts feeding off those fanatics.
On Monday, the Mountaineers and Tar Heels couldn't do much of anything to cool off the opposition.
Virginia Tech pulls off upset of North Carolina
No. 10 North Carolina struggles on Virginia Tech's home court in front of a sold-out crowd, falling 80-69 to the unranked Hokies on Monday.
West Virginia ran into what seemed nearly like a mirror image of itself in Fort Worth, Texas. The Horned Frogs pushed the Mountaineers around on both ends of the floor and were scrappier on defense. Four Frogs got into double figures, including forward Kouat Noi, who was ejected for a flagrant foul 2 halfway into the second half as the game's leading scoring (13 points) at the time.
While the ejection of Noi made it a more even affair in the final 10 minutes, the Frogs' ability to rush out to a 12-1 run to start the second half and their refusal to relent were too much for a West Virginia team that joins eight other teams in the 10-team Big 12 with at least three conference losses.
On a night in which they could have made a big statement on its way to keeping pace with conference leader Kansas, the Mountaineers fell victim to a tough road environment against a TCU team that has all the makings of a solid tournament team.
Despite not having Jaylen Fisher (out for the season with a knee injury), dropping four of their past five games and losing Noi with more than 10 minutes to go in this one, the Frogs prevailed. It was TCU's first win against a ranked West Virginia team in the AP poll era (since 1948-49) and the Frogs' first win over a ranked team in the Ed & Rae Schollmaier Arena (previously 0-10).
This also was the program's 10th win against a top-10 opponent in the AP poll era. But with the way this team has played at times this season, it wouldn't shock anyone to see more of this.
You can excuse West Virginia for losing this kind of road game, less so UNC's loss at Virginia Tech. Regardless, both teams must go back to the chalkboard after Monday left them scrambling to rediscover any sort of championship attitude.