North Carolina basketball must be in real trouble. Spend enough time on social media and you'd think the Tar Heels were dropping the sport. Heck, one website has the Tar Heels as a No. 1 seed ... in the NIT.
I'm not buying it. North Carolina is in trouble -- bubble trouble -- but there is a clear prescription for the Tar Heels, not just for an NCAA tournament bid but a fairly favorable seed. And, no, I haven't hit my head on a Franklin Street curb.
First, the bad news: the Tar Heels have played seven Quad 1 games and lost them all (by an unsightly average of 18.6 points). And they likely have just three Q1 games remaining before the ACC tournament -- at Clemson on Tuesday (6 p.m. ET, ACC Network), at Virginia Tech (Feb. 19) and at Duke (March 5). If they go 0-10 in those contests and then belly-up at the ACC tournament in Brooklyn, well, they'll miss the NCAA tournament on merit.
It's just not something we should expect. The reason is that North Carolina (16-7 overall, 8-4 conference) has won every other game by a tidy 15.6 points on average. This is the profile of, you guessed it, a bubble team! The absence of a signature win to date is offset by the equally important absence of a bad loss.
The issue on the floor isn't whether the Tar Heels are going to the Final Four. They're not. The issue, as a team sitting on the dreaded "Last Four In" list, is whether or not UNC can have a better finish than the likes of Oklahoma, BYU, Creighton, Mississippi State and Memphis.
Even after being pasted at home by Duke, the Heels are 4-1 (.800) in their last five. Dig into the last five games of the bubble competition noted above and you'll hit on an aggregate 9-16 record (.360). The point is that -- every year, without fail -- more bubble teams play their way out of the field than in. The reason? Because they're not very good teams to begin with.
All North Carolina has to do the rest of the way is be among the best of a mediocre lot. And I believe, from a strictly basketball standpoint, that Carolina has the talent to continue winning the games it should and eventually steal one or two 50/50 matchups. That would put them in the NCAA tournament, avoid the First Four, and give them a decent shot in a 6 vs. 11 or 7 vs. 10 first-round game.
Take it a step further to the ACC tournament. Is there any team other than Duke that the Tar Heels can't beat on a neutral floor? Isn't reaching the ACC championship game well within the plausible range? Of course it is. And, if that happens, North Carolina will be a single-digit seed in the four-letter tournament.
So, at least for today, let's hold off on shoveling dirt on the Tar Heels.