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Tar Heels Hit The 26-2 Mark

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Frequent commenter, william, posted a nice run down of all the UNC teams in the past 30 years that have managed to reach this point in the season with only two losses on the record. It is an incredible list of some great teams in UNC history with three of them finishing the deal and winning the national title. Thanks to william for pulling it together. The full list after the jump.

It is interesting that the 2007-08 UNC Tar Heels have gotten a fair amount of criticism from fans and writers alike for having had a lackluster season, particularly on the defensive end. What this probably indicates more than anything else is just how spoiled Tar Heel fans have gotten.

I am only going to go back as far as the 1970’s but let’s see what this team has accomplished so far by seeing what other Carolina teams have achieved a record of 26-2, or close to it, missing it by one win at most, at some point during a season. These numbers are off the top of my head but I am sure that they are pretty much on target:

1. 1976–The Tar Heels, who featured four future NBA’ers and Olympians, were 25-2 and number two in the nation before losing in the finals of the ACC tourney and having Phil Ford get injured, finishing 25-4. They weren’t going to beat Indiana that year anyway, who went 32-0.

2. 1982–UNC wins it all and finishes 32-2. This is Carolina’s second best record ever, just short of the 1957 team’s record, shared with 1976 Indiana, of 32-0, for a champion. This team had only one loss, at UVa when it had its starters intact, also losing at home to Wake, 55-49 without Perkins who had influenza(the real kind that makes you go to the hospital), and thus they came very close to going 33-1. I won’t say that they came close to going undefeated, however, because they got pasted by double digits in Charlottesville in a game that they were never really in.

3. 1984–UNC finished up 28-3, after going 14-0 in conference. Dean hints that he brought starting point guard Kenny Smith back as a starter, which may have been a mistake, given how well back-up Steve Hale was playing(hmm). Indiana and Dan Dakich ruined my freshman year during the round of 16.

4. 1987–UNC finished 32-4, after going 14-0 in conference, losing to NC State in the ACC tourney finals and losing to Syracuse in the round of 8. This team had Kenny Smith, J.R. Reid and Scott Williams, all of whom had decent pro careers, especially Kenny Smith, as well as highly recruited Dave Popson, Joe Wolf and Jeff Lebo. The ACC was a little down this year and Carolina surprised somewhat, given that they had lost the number one draft pick, Brad Daugherty from the year before.

5. 1993–UNC finished 34-4, after going 14-2 in conference. This team lost to Michigan in December by one point at the buzzer and then to Duke and Wake in the first go round in conference. They ended up losing a heartbreaker in the conference tourney final to GIT, after playing without Derrick Phelps, in a game in which Donald Williams bonked three after three after three, something he wouldn’t do again until the next year. My recollection is that this team was 25-3 at this point in the season.

6. 1998–UNC finished 34-4, losing to State, Maryland, Duke and Utah in the semi’s. Carolina beat Duke in the finals of the tourney, after losing the Senior game at Duke the week before in a total collapse. My recollection is that this team was 26-2 at this point in the season. This team was somewhat of a mystery team, with the losses to Duke and Utah being somewhat inexplicable; they also came very close to going out in the Second Round against Charlotte in the NCAA tourney.

7. 2005–UNC finished 33-4, losing to Santa Clara in its first game, which I believe Quentin Thomas started, since Ray Felton had been suspended for one game for playing in an unauthorized summer game, and then lost to Duke and Wake in the first go round in conference play and then to GIT in the semi’s of the tourney. Carolina was 25-3 at this point in the season. Discounting the game that Felton missed, this team came reasonably close to winning all the rest of its games,losing heartbreakers to Duke and GIT and a foul-marred game at Wake Forest. The 2005 team won the title by beating one of the best second place finishers in recent memory, the 37-1 Illinois Illini. Had Illinois won, it would have been a new record for most victories by a champion.

So, looking back, Carolina teams achieved a record of 26-2 in the 1982, 1984, 1987, 1998 and 2008 seasons. Smith did it three times, Gutheridge once and Roy Williams has now achieved it with the ‘Heels and at least once with the Kansas Jayhawks, in 1997, who only lost twice the entire season.

Looking at how those teams did, we see a national championship in 1982, Sweet Sixteen in 1984, Final Eight in 1987, and a Final Four in 1998. Roy’s 1997 Jayhawks had the misfortune that Dean had so many years, in that they played Arizona, the eventual title winner, in the round of 16 and lost a heartbreaker to the Wildcats, who went on to defeat Carolina and Kentucky in the Final Four. Judging by history, Carolina should expect to at least get to the Final Eight and probably to the Final Four, although after that (and of course, really these are just probabilities) there are no guarantees.