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It can't get much worse for Tar Heels

The glorious past was represented by Tyler Hansbrough sitting courtside for a halftime ceremony in which his No. 50 jersey was sent to the rafters. The future, top-rated high school senior Harrison Barnes, was in the front row on the opposite side of the court directly behind North Carolina's bench.

The past and the future are bright.

The present?

Not so much.

The Tar Heels put forth a valiant effort for 30 minutes on their home floor against their rivals from eight miles down the road, Duke, but as I've maintained since watching them in the season-opener, UNC is flawed.

For some reason or another, nearly everyone (myself included) picked North Carolina as a preseason Top 10 team.

But I quickly saw the light while watching the season-opener, a rout over Isiah Thomas' Florida International club.

There are just too many missing pieces, and honestly, the talent level just isn't good enough.

Who do you give the ball to with the game on the line?

Both Kyle Singler and Jon Scheyer of Duke were at a loss for an immediate answer.

Because there is none.

Starting point guard Larry Drew II, who makes Tar Heels fans yearn for the days of Quentin Thomas, took ill-advised jump shots in the final few minutes.

Marcus Ginyard, who is a shell of himself after all the rash of injuries have taken their toll on his body, couldn't buy a bucket and even had difficulty on the defensive end.

Will Graves, who, in all reality should be a role player coming off the bench, couldn't get open.

The two heralded big men, Deon Thompson and Ed Davis (touted as an NBA lottery pick), were both non-factors down the stretch.

North Carolina has now lost four straight after the 64-54 loss on Wednesday night to Duke. The Tar Heels have dropped seven of their last eight games to drop to 13-11 overall.

Now comes a showdown Saturday against N.C. State in Chapel Hill, a place where the Tar Heels haven't won in more than a month, with last place in the ACC on the line.

That's a battle of the cellar dwellars.

"Coming to Carolina, we didn't think we'd be fighting from the bottom up," said Ginyard, the seasoned veteran of the group. "But that's where we are."

For a while, it appeared as though the grave-diggers might need to toss down their shovels and hold off from burying the Tar Heels for the rest of the season.

Then, it became crunch time, and Roy Williams had no answer.

"There's no talk of the tournament until we get better," Ginyard said.

Sure, there are seven McDonald's All-Americans littered up and down the roster, but let's face it: Many of these guys were bestowed that honor largely in part because they committed to North Carolina.

Williams works about as hard as any head coach in the nation, but it's clear he incorrrectly evaluated some of the players on his team.

On the pregame video montage, Hall of Famer and former UNC coach Dean Smith said, "This is Carolina basketball."

It looks more like the Carolina JV squad to me.

Now, the Tar Heels, who somehow began the season at 7-1 with wins against Michigan State and Ohio State on their resume, may not even be deserving of an NIT bid.

"They're talented, but just inexperienced," Singler added.

It'll be the first time that a Williams-coached team hasn't made the Big Dance since 1989 -- his first season at Kansas when the program wasn't eligible due to transgressions from Larry Brown.

Florida hasn't gone to the NCAA tournament since the Gators won consecutive national titles in 2006 and 2007. The Tar Heels were similarly decimated when its top four scorers left a year ago.

Williams knew this team wasn't a Final Four team in his heart.

But he had no idea it would get this ugly.

"There are no moral victories," he said after the loss.

The Tar Heels scored a mere 54 points, the lowest since Williams came back to Chapel Hill, and also shot a season-low 34.5 percent from the field in the loss to Duke.

And Mike Krzyzewski's team didn't even play all that well.

The Blue Devils made just nine of 40 shots in the first 20 minutes and shot 32 percent overall for the game, but they dominated a frontline that was regarded as one of the nation's elite coming into the season.

Duke had a staggering 23 offensive rebounds.

Injured North Carolina big men Tyler Zeller and Travis Wear might have helped, but it wouldn't have made much of a difference.

The Tar Heels are what they are.

"It's a different feeling coming in this year than last year," Scheyer admitted. "Last year, we knew we had to play a near-perfect game to win."

These days, just about anyone can come in and beat the Tar Heels.

It seems as though just about everyone has.