As big of a shock as Carolina's sudden drop in basketball prowess was last season, at least one school had it worse – UCLA. The Bruins lost seven of their first ten games last season, and finished 14-18 (8-10 in conference), making them ineligible for even the NIT. This season has also had its rough patches, with a four game losing streak that includes VCU and Montana (and, in fairness, Villanova and Kansas), and the sudden transfer of Matt Carlino, a freshman who graduated a year early from high school only to never see playing time. This leaves UCLA with basically nine players, and the fans tearing their hair out.
To wit, see this post at Bruins Nation summarizing the down years of big-name teams, Carolina included. I point it out not just to give you fans in a more desperate situation than ours, but to also see an outsiders' perspective of UNC. Mistakes aside – one commenter thinks UNC won the NIT last season, another argues that Minnesota and Vanderbilt are as bad a pair of losses as Montana – there's the view that the Tar Heels right their ship much more quickly than other big schools. There's also the valid point that UNC has four national championships since Wooden's retirement compared to UCLA's one.
The bottom line is the fan base seems truly conflicted as to how close Ben Howland is to firing. I don't think he should be; the Bruins have a good chance of using a weak Pac-10 to still make the tournament, if not much of a run, and Ben Howland is one bad recruiting class away from his three Final Four appearances.There's also no one on the market for UCLA to hire save Howland clone Jamie Dixon, as despite what the fans may think, Tom Izzo is not being uprooted from Michigan State at this stage. The Bruins may miss the tournament for a second straight season, but there's more parity in college basketball than there was even in the Matt Doherty days. Howland's improving and will have UCLA back in the tournament in 2012; a bad year rarely is followed by an immediate rebound.
(Even when Duke returned to the tournament after one miss in 1996, they were a weak team and bounced in the first round, and the second round the year after that. The same thing happened on a smaller scale in '07 and '08 with first and second round losses. Which is also why I find Connecticut overrated at the moment, and expect them to fall to closer to the middle of the Big East by March.)