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College basketball's top programs have gone missing

Please, look over your 2010 NCAA tournament bracket carefully. No, look closer. Notice something missing?

The blue bloods: Where are they?

There is no UCLA. Remember those guys — Wooden, championships galore, Pauley Pavilion, Alcindor?

There is no Indiana. Call it another season on the brink for the Hoosiers. It's enough to make Bobby Knight throw chairs, if he were still a Hoosier.

There is no North Carolina, home of Dean Smith, Jordan and the defending national champions.

Three of the four greatest college programs in the country are on the bench. Talk about madness in March.

It's like the Oscars without Streep, Congress without a Kennedy, the tabloids without Britney.

UCLA has won more national championships than any other school in the nation, with 11. Indiana and North Carolina are tied for third, with 5 each.

The MIA list runs even deeper than the Big Three when you consider that four other traditional basketball powers are on the sideline, as well — Connecticut, Arizona, Utah and Illinois.

Heading into the 71st year of the NCAA Basketball Tournament, UCLA and North Carolina are tied for second in total number of tournament appearances, with 41 (trailing only Kentucky, at 50). Indiana is sixth, with 35.

UConn, Arizona, Utah and Illinois all rank in the top 14 in total appearances. Arizona had qualified for 25 consecutive NCAA berths until this season, falling short of North Carolina's record of 27.

They're all sitting this one out. Those teams have been left out of the field occasionally over the years, but almost never at the same time. It marks the first time since 1966 that North Carolina, Arizona, UCLA, UConn and Indiana were all excluded from the NCAA Tournament field. They weren't good enough to qualify for a tournament that includes 65 teams.

You know something is weird when North Carolina, Indiana and UCLA are out and these teams are in: UC-Santa Barbara, Vermont (who?), Oakland (the Raiders?), North Texas (they play basketball?), Sam Houston State, Cornell (they play basketball?), Wofford (this is a college?) and Morgan State (Morgan is a state?).

The NCAA Tournament is not without blue bloods this year — Kentucky, Kansas, Duke and Syracuse are present and accounted for — but you get the point. A year ago, UConn and North Carolina were in the Final Four. Between them, they have won three of the last five NCAA championships. Now they're both playing in that other tournament this year, the N-I-freakin'-T ...

How did this happen? The continuing exodus of players leaving school early for the NBA draft certainly makes it more difficult for the blue bloods — the schools who sign most of the blue-chip talent — to maintain their dominance from year to year.

North Carolina lost most of its starting lineup to graduation and the NBA and won only half its games. UConn lost four starters to graduation and the NBA Draft and finished 12th in the Big East Conference. Indiana, 16-46 the last two seasons, hasn't appeared in the NCAA Tournament since 2008 (memo to Bobby Knight: Wipe that smile off your face).

More than most sports, basketball teams are greatly affected by the presence of just one player. Close to 40 players declared early for last year's draft, and it took its toll.

Arizona lost junior Chase Budinger and sophomore Jordan Hill. North Carolina lost juniors Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington. Oklahoma lost sophomore Blake Griffin. UCLA lost freshman Jrue Holiday. UConn lost junior Hasheem Thabeet. None of those teams made the tournament this season.

But the absence of all those blue bloods from this year's tournament is probably just an aberration. Players have been leaving school early for the draft for years and most of the teams they leave behind recover and reload quickly and return to the NCAA Tournament.

It's a regular group of powerhouse schools who win NCAA tournament berths, and yet dynasties have been rare from the beginning. Disregarding UCLA's freakish dominance in the '60s and '70s (10 championships in 12 years), only six teams have ever won back-to-back championships in the 70-year history of the tournament and only two of those occurred in the last 35 years.

Losses by Kentucky, Kansas, Duke and Syracuse would pave the way for an "outsider" to take the blue bloods' crown this year.