Is North Carolina on the NCAA Tournament Bubble?

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Tar Heels' roller coaster season may vex selection committee

Is North Carolina on the NCAA Tournament Bubble?

Syracuse, you’re on notice.

North Carolina lost 63-57 at home to Miami on Wednesday night, the Tar Heels’ second consecutive loss to an unranked team. Meanwhile, Syracuse is undefeated, playing at home on Saturday, and on paper shouldn’t have much to fear from an 0-2 ACC team that just lost to Miami and Wake Forest.

Sit down, Syracuse. Louisville, Michigan State and Kentucky have some stories to share.

The conference season is only a week old, and North Carolina is putting together one of the most vexing resumes for the NCAA Tournament selection committee.

North Carolina is one of seven teams with two wins against the RPI top 20. Some of those teams you probably recognized as being close to the top of the AP poll: Wisconsin, Syracuse, Michigan State and Baylor. The other two are Kansas State and Colorado.

But the Tar Heels’ loss to Miami gives North Carolina a 1-5 record against teams ranked between No. 51 through 100 in the RPI, the same record as Evansville.

By nature, the NCAA Tournament bubble has a number of teams with good wins and bad losses — both at home, on the road and on neutral sites. But North Carolina is stretching the imagination.

North Carolina is the only team to beat Michigan State this season, in East Lansing or otherwise. The Tar Heels are the only team besides Kentucky to beat Louisville — and a Cardinals team that still had Chane Behanan at the time. Kentucky is a shell of the team most thought the Wildcats would be, but they have only three loses, one in Chapel Hill.

The most recent team with a resume as up and down as North Carolina may be Virginia from last season. The Cavaliers defeated RPI No. 1 Duke at home and lost to No. 318 Old Dominion as their two extreme results, but that was only the start.

Here’s a look at the two side by side:

Last year’s Virginia team didn’t make the NCAA Tournament, done in by too many bad losses and a weak strength of schedule. That's enough to give Tar Heels fans pause, but none of North Carolina’s losses will be as bad as Virginia’s loss to Old Dominion, a team that went 5-25.

Still, the RPI numbers for teams like Belmont and UAB are likely to drop as the two teams get deeper into conference play.

ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, who projected North Carolina as a No. 8 seed, says North Carolina may need to break .500 in the ACC and win a game or two in the conference tournament to avoid the NIT.

Projecting how North Carolina gets to that .500 record or better would be impossible given the track record. Even in ACC play, the Tar Heels have enough opportunities for wins the committee can’t ignore and losses that could doom them on Selection Sunday.

The Tar Heels face Syracuse only once on Saturday plus the home-and-home with Duke. A road trip to Virginia and a home date against Pittsburgh are critical. The schedule also includes teams outside of the RPI top 100 (Virginia Tech, Boston College and Georgia Tech).

In other words, if the roller coaster ride continues, North Carolina is going to have make sure it counters every dip with another shocking win.

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