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A dark reality faces North Carolina after 77-69 loss to #23 NC State

The Tar Heels would be only Preseason AP #1 since the NCAA Tournament reorganized in 1984-85 to miss the tournament. PIC: UNC Athletics

One thing is for sure: both North Carolina & NC State desperately needed to win on Sunday afternoon at PNC Arena in Raleigh.

#23 NC State has compiled a solid resume this year. Wins over Duke, Miami (FL), Wake Forest, and Virginia Tech stand out, but many AP voters still left them off Top 25 ballots. They needed a big-time win to establish credibility - if not, the Selection Committee may have looked back to February 19th as the day it fell apart for the Wolfpack.

North Carolina needed Sunday's tilt in much different ways. The preseason favorite after reaching the National Championship game last year, the Tar Heels have gone through nothing short of a free-fall; they were 1-4 over their last five (the lone win a 20-point rout of Clemson), and hadn't been ranked in weeks. Their 16-10 record - 8-8 against ACC opponents - wasn't good enough for many bracketologists.

In a contest that gave college basketball fans everything they wanted and more, NC State leveraged a late-game run to knock off UNC in 77-69 fashion. The Wolfpack had four in double-figures, including a masterclass from Jarkel Joiner. He contributed 29 points and delivered in the big moments, including this huge corner-three to give the Pack its biggest lead of the day.

With the win, NC State will likely get a well-deserved lift in this week's Top 25 rankings; they sure will be higher than 23 in my House of College Hoops Top 25 ballot this week.

But, as the dust settles, one thing has grown abundantly clear: fans and experts alike believe the North Carolina Tar Heels - who stood alone on the throne of college basketball royalty mere months ago - are not worthy of playing in March.

What wouldn't be attractive about the Tar Heels this season? They returned nearly every contributor from last season (minus Brady Manek), Wooden Award candidate Armando Bacot had only improved, and big man-plus-shooter Pete Nance (Northwestern transfer) was thought to be a solid addition to the roster.

But if you fast-forward to reality here in Act Two of the 2022-23 season, you'll find a Tar Heels team in shambles. The top four players - Bacot, Caleb Love, RJ Davis, and Leaky Black are contributing too much of the offense, without any help from the depth pieces. Pete Nance has gone a dismal 9-for-35 in his last five contests; his 12.7 points-per-game on January 4th has dropped to under 9.5 PPG. Puff Johnson is the only non-starter that plays any significant minutes, but 2-for-5 won't do it. Bench players not named Puff Johnson played only 11 total minutes.

With four games left in the year, North Carolina has their backs against the wall. If the season ended today, they don't deserve to - and probably wouldn't - be in the NCAA Tournament. They have not won a single game against a Quad 1 opponent in nine contests this year. Their best wins come against the Big Ten's proverbial "bottom-of-the-barrel" in Ohio State and Michigan, with an earlier win over NC State and a good showing against Wake Forest in the conversation as well. Is that resume good enough for a bid? The sentiment in the college hoops world is a resounding "no."

The more drastic route suggests that Hubert Davis, who served as the apprentice to Roy Williams and was tabbed as the new Tar Heel coach upon Roy's retirement last year, isn't cut out for the role. It's not a narrative I'm ready to agree with, but here's one fan's sentiment.

If the Tar Heels can't win out, they'll make history for all the wrong reasons. Since the NCAA Tournament re-organized in 1984-85, no Preseason AP #1 seed has ever missed the tournament. If not for an historic turnaround of sorts, and probably a monster run in Greensboro at the ACC Tournament, North Carolina stares this fate in its eyes.

In which case, they'll leave it to the world to wonder if the 2022-23 North Carolina Tar Heels should have even been in the discussion in the first place.


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