Elite programs stuck on the NCAA Tournament bubble

North Carolina coach Roy Williams waves goodbye to the Virginia coaching staff after an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Feb. 13, 2021, in Charlottesville, Va. (Andrew Shurtleff/The Daily Progress via AP, Pool)
North Carolina coach Roy Williams waves goodbye to the Virginia coaching staff after an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Feb. 13, 2021, in Charlottesville, Va. (Andrew Shurtleff/The Daily Progress via AP, Pool)

The NCAA Tournament bubble is typically populated with teams from small conferences and middle-of-the-pack big conference schools.

A pandemic that has wreaked havoc on the college basketball season is also reshaping the curve.

Perennial power Duke is currently bubbling. So is North Carolina. Kentucky is so far down it can't even see the bubble.

“The season hasn’t gone how we wanted it, but we just try to keep our head down and keep working,” Duke sophomore forward Matthew Hurt said. “Every day, don’t take a day off, not try to listen to the outside, the social media, what everyone else says but us.”

Duke entered the season with loaded expectations, as it always does. The Blue Devils had key holdovers from last year's team and coach Mike Krzyzewski brought in another stellar recruiting class.

Duke's season has mostly been a dud so far.

The Blue Devils are 8-8 and 6-6 in the ACC after beating North Carolina State on Saturday, a win that ended a three-game losing streak. Duke is No. 66 in the latest NET rankings — up 11 from the previous rankings — and needs a strong finish to the season to avoid missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1995.

“You’ve just got to stay with it,” Krzyzewski said. “That’s what our program's done and see what happens. Just see what happens if you do that.”