College Basketball Bubble Watch

Updated: February 21, 2014, 10:58 AM ET
By Eamonn Brennan | ESPN.com


The curious case of the North Carolina Tar Heels

Editor's note: This file has been updated to include all games through Thursday, Feb. 20.

On Thursday night, North Carolina set a record. A weird, obscure, tangential record, but a record nonetheless.

UNC's win over Duke made it the first team in history -- dating back to the very first Associated Press poll in 1961-62 -- to beat the AP preseason Nos. 1, 2, 3 and 4 in the same campaign. North Carolina crossed that Rubicon this week, and no statistic or factoid could, in so few words, more perfectly describe the Tar Heels' strange 2013-14 odyssey.

How's this for a timeline: On Nov. 17, UNC lost at home to Belmont. On Nov. 24, it beat Louisville (preseason No. 3) on a neutral court. Seven days later, it lost at UAB, a 16-10 team with losses to East Carolina, FIU, FAU and Tulane. Three days after that, UNC won at then-No. 1 (and preseason No. 2) Michigan State. On Dec. 14, it beat Kentucky (preseason No. 1) at home. On Dec. 18, it lost to Texas on the same court. There were losses to Wake Forest and Miami early in conference play, and defeats in trips to Syracuse and Virginia, and by mid-January, everybody basically agreed to give up on figuring out the Tar Heels. They were inexplicable.

A month later, after eight straight wins -- including this past Saturday's 75-71 hold over Pitt and Thursday's come-from-behind takedown of Duke -- UNC officially has the weirdest profile of any team in recent Bubble Watch history. Arizona is the only team in the country with a better collection of marquee wins. Wisconsin comes close. But no one even approaches UNC's eclecticism, its mix of impressive victories and baffling losses.

Which is precisely why UNC isn't yet a 100 percent guaranteed lock to make the NCAA tournament. The Tar Heels have a quick home turnaround against Wake Forest on Saturday. They go to NC State and visit woeful, RPI-killing Virginia Tech next week. Then, it's a home date with Notre Dame before the rematch at Duke on March 8. Could North Carolina go 5-0 in those five games? Yes. Could it go 0-5? Absolutely! Would a 19-12 team with losses to UAB, Virginia Tech and a sweep at the hands of Wake Forest have to sweat out the ACC tournament? Probably.

Best bet? UNC ends up a No. 6 seed. But if there's one thing we know about this North Carolina team, it's that there's no such thing as a "best bet."

Note: All RPI data via ESPN RPI is updated through Feb. 21.