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THF Countdown #16: 1988

Season: 1987-88
Record: 27-7 overall, 11-3 ACC(1st place)
ACC Tournament: Lost to Duke in the finals.
NCAA Tournament: Lost to Arizona in the Elite Eight

Roster: Steve Bucknall, Pete Chilcutt, Jeff Denny, Doug Elstun, Rick Fox, Rodney Hyatt, Joe Jenkins, Jeff Lebo, Kevin Madden, David May, J.R. Reid, King Rice, Ranzino Smith, Scott Williams.

Source: UNC Media Guide

As stated previously, it is interesting that we are still this far from #1 and we are discussing UNC teams that went to the Elite Eight.  The 1988 followed perhaps one of the most disappointing endings to the previous season imaginable.  The 1987 team was loaded for bear, went 14-0 in the ACC and lost only twice during the regular season before losing to Syracuse in the regional final.  So heading into 1988 and having Syracuse on the schedule to open things up was a chance to avenge that loss.  The Heels did that despite JR Reid being suspended.  That was a fairly sweet start to the season even if the game was meaningless compared to the one they lost the previous March.

That win vaulted the Heels to #1, a ranking they promptly lost with a defeat at Vanderbilt.  From there the Heels played good basketball losing only three ACC games and an additional non-conference game to Temple in the Dean Dome. Temple was ranked #1 at the time.  The big sticking point with this season was the fact the Heels lost three times to Duke.  UNC lost by one in Chapel Hill, lost by 15 in Durham and then by four in the ACC title game.

The highlight of the NCAA Tournament, besides beating Michigan for the 2nd straight season, was putting up 123 points against Loyala-Maramount.  The Heels were never really in the game against Arizona and for the four time since winning the title in 1982, UNC fell one game short of the Final Four.  That drought along with the ACC Championship drought(the loss to Duke was the 3rd ACC title loss since 1982) seemed to bring an air of frustration.  The Heels had put plenty of great teams on the floor since last winning in New Orleans and gone 14-0 in the ACC twice but for some reason they could not win the ACC Tournament and beyond that could not get into the Final Four.  This was further exasperated by Duke's 2nd Final Four in three years which cranked up the whispers that Duke and Mike Krzyzewski were starting to pass Dean Smith and UNC by.  This would really reach a fevered pitch by 1993 after Duke had won back-to-back national championshps. UNC began setting the world right a year later and following that with more Final Four appearances.

I wonder what life would have been like in 1988 if message boards and blogs were thriving like they are now.  Six years and counting since the last ACC and NCAA titles would probably have the worst elements of the fan base feeling extremely restless.  Granted no one would be stupid enough to call for Dean's job but the pressure Duke was exerting with the string of failures in regional championship games undoubtedly would have pushed some folks to a breaking point.  Which is to say, the 1989 ACC title win over Duke could not have come soon enough.

Countdown So Far

17. 1985
18. 2006
19. 2001
20. 1992
21. 1996
22. 1999
23. 2000
24. 2004
25. 1990
26. 2003
27. 2002