The future looked so shiny and bright back in November for the royals of college basketball.
North Carolina was No. 1 in the pre-season Associated Press poll, and picked to win the ACC. Kentucky was No. 4 and the SEC favorite. Duke was No. 7 and expected to push the Tar Heels for the conference title. Big names, big expectations, but there's absolutely nothing unusual about that.
Look at them now.
None were listed in this week's AP top-25. The formerly No. 1 Tar Heels didn't get a single vote. Kentucky got one. Oral Roberts got five.
Together, they're 22-15 in league play. Kentucky is currently tied for fourth in the SEC, Duke sixth in the ACC, North Carolina tied for eighth.
In the NCAA's current NET rankings, where the Quad 1 games display how a team does against the heaviest competition, they're a combined 5-22. Iowa has seven Quad 1 wins by itself.
And this week has been a showcase of their struggles, a warning shot three weeks from March that all of them need to start finding answers soon.
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Duke went to Miami Monday night and lost by 22 points. The Blue Devils committed 21 turnovers, a number Duke has reached only four times in the past 13 seasons. It underscored the trouble the Blue Devils occasionally have in taking care of the basketball. They're the third worst team in the ACC in turnover percentage, behind only Florida State and Louisville, who are a combined 11-37.
Duke is now 17-7, but a wobbly 5-7 away from Cameron Indoor Stadium. They Blue Devils lost by 11 at Wake Forest, by 24 at North Carolina State when they were outscored 31-2 in points off turnovers. That gap was 23-9 at Miami. They've been a tad unstable in blue uniforms.
"It wasn't the same level of competing," coach Jon Scheyer said of the bashing by the Hurricanes, when Duke never led and trailed by as many as 26.
"That's on me, on our guys, on our team. It's disappointing, not OK with it."
Kentucky was home against Arkansas Tuesday and trailed by one point at halftime. Then the Wildcats coughed up 47 points in the second half as the Razorbacks shredded their defense for 72 percent shooting, running away to win 88-73.
Arkansas only needed one 3-pointer to put up those 47 points after halftime. The Razorbacks shot 62.7 percent for the game, the first time in 16 years Kentucky had allowed an opponent to top 60.
That makes three Rupp Arena losses since Jan. 10 for the 16-8 Wildcats.
"We're not going to let this define how the rest of our season goes," guard Cason Wallace said afterward, but Kentucky needs to figure out some things quickly.
John Calipari wants a more physical effort from an occasionally leaky defense. Kentucky was wiped out 46-28 in the paint Tuesday and Calipari mentioned at one point in his post-game autopsy how "I can't get guys to body up and do this stuff."
And what's with Oscar Tshiebwe? The reigning national player of the year had a quiet seven points and seven rebounds against Arkansas. He has 11 points combined in his past two games.
North Carolina dropped in on Wake Forest Tuesday night and was behind 22 points by halftime. It ended 92-85, an odd game where Wake's Tyree Appleby made an ACC record 23 free throws and the Tar Heels managed to score 60 points in the second half and still lose. This was their third defeat in a row to drop their record to 15-9, and was so upsetting to Hubert Davis that the coach kept his team in the locker room for nearly 40 minutes after the game.
"We just had to have a talk," he said later on his radio show. "We had to to be able to communicate and find out what's holding us back . . . "
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Well, lousy outside shooting for one thing. The Tar Heels are 16-for-72 from beyond the 3-point arc in this recent three-game skid. Two of their main scorers, RJ Davis and Pete Nance, are 2-for-27. All that leaves North Carolina 318th in the nation in 3-point shooting. The Tar Heels are also 255th in the nation in scoring defense and 303rd in turnovers forced. Most of all, they're running out of runway to find their A game.
"I got some answers," Davis said of his team's chat in Winston-Salem. "Not all of them, but it's a start."
You have to go back 49 years to find an NCAA Tournament without any of these three programs, and it very likely won't happen this season. Duke is still in a strong position to get there, though the Blue Devils' seed might be dropping. They're at Virginia Saturday with a chance to regain their footing. Or not.
"We can't repeat what we just did tonight," freshman Kyle Filipowski said at Miami.
Four of their last six regular season games will be at Cameron, where maybe they can rev up the offense that is 163rd in the nation in scoring and 228th in shooting. But Kentucky and North Carolina have rapidly diminishing margins for error. Bluebloods on the Bubble.
Kentucky now goes on the road to Georgia and Mississippi State and can afford to lose neither. The Wildcats' win at Tennessee last month will carry them a long way in their tournament selection profile but it can't cover up everything if they stumble further. Tennessee will be in Rupp Arena on Feb. 18 and a sweep of the Vols would do wonders for the crumbling confidence and grumbling demeanor of Big Blue Nation.
North Carolina needs to right itself at home. The Tar Heels'next two games are Clemson and Miami, both in Chapel Hill. Virginia and Duke will stop by later. There is a chance to beef up the metrics.
Three giants, then, now each face various moments of truth, trying to fix flaws that have become most conspicuous the past two days.
It's a long time since that pre-season poll in November.