Record: 8-20 overall, 4-12 ACC(7th place tie)
ACC Tournament: Lost in 1st round to Duke
NCAA Tournament: NONE
Roster: Brian Bersticker, Adam Boone, Jason Capel, Joe Everett, Jonathan Holmes, Will Johnson, Kris Lang, Jackie Manuel, Phillip McLamb, Orlando Melendez, Brian Morrison, Damien Price, Melvin Scott, Jawad Williams
Source: UNC Media Guide
I will go on record as saying that this was bar none the worse season of UNC basketball ever. Sure there may have been worse records but given the heights UNC enjoyed for almost 40 years and the number of humiliating defeats the Heels suffered at the hands of teams that were not even on the same planet historically speaking it was easily the bottom of the barrel. In fact there were so many Tar Heel fans who had never experienced an NCAA Tournament without the Heels it was a complete shock to the system when UNC ended up 8-20.
The reasons for the huge drop-off are various and far ranging. One thing is certain, Matt Doherty was not forced out because of the 8-20 record but it did not do much to help his case when the player revolt of 2003 happened. The primary reason for the nasty losing mark lies with Bill Guthridge who failed to recruit enough quality players to maintain the program's winning continuity. Part of that was not Guthridge's fault. He was setup as a caretaker coach, the beneficiary of one man's desire to reward a longtime assistant with a shot at a national title. That, more than anything, was what Dean Smith had in mind when he walked away from UNC in October of 1998. Dean figured as loaded as the Heels were heading into the 1997-98 season, the chances were better than good Guthridge could coach them to a national title. It almost worked with the Heels ending up in the Final Four with three teams they were good enough to beat. Unfortunately they fell short and as the next two seasons proceeded, the recruiting fell off, in part because no one was going to sign to play for a coach who would not be there to finish their career.
With all college sports the shoe does not drop until a few recruiting cycles have passed and in this case the lack of recruiting came to a head in 2002 during the second season of the Matt Doherty era. As I said, 2002 alone did not do Doherty in, but it did not help since losing always brings out the worst aspects of any situation. Doherty's coaching style came under scrutiny as did his handling of the program in general. When you are winning and successful no one really looks at those things, unless you decide to choke a player or throw a chair on the court(see Bobby Knight.) Usually if you win, people leave the details alone save NCAA violations and what not(see Indiana.)
From the fan perspective it was a scarring experience and I saw that within the proper context. In fact I could go to IC right now, open a thread about the 8-20 season and watch how quickly the mods lock it. Why? Because even now the more passionate Tar Heel fans in our midst have yet to let it go. It was, in a word, depressing.
And I have no idea how NC State fans do it year after year.