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THF Countdown #20: 1992

Season: 1991-1992
Record: 23-10 overall, 9-7 ACC(3rd place)
ACC Tournament: Lost to Duke in the finals

NCAA Tournament: Lost to Ohio State in the Sweet Sixteen

Roster: Jason Burgess, Scott Cherry, Hubert Davis, George Lynch, Eric Montross, Derrick Phelps, Brian Reese, Henrik Rodl, Kevin Salvadori, Larry Smith, Travis Stephenson, Pat Sullivan, Matt Wenstrom, Donald Williams.

Source: UNC Media Guide

One note about the countdown: This is the last UNC team on the list with double digit losses. That stands as a fairly amazing stat.

The stretch of UNC teams running from about 1986 to 1993 really established the foundation of my UNC fandom. During this time I watched most, if not all the games with Daddy and took UNC winning and losing nearly on a personal level. By the time you reached 1992 UNC had broken the nine year Final Four drought in 1991 which had also included a 2nd ACC Tournament title in three years also the end of a small drought for the Heels. What we did not know at the time was the 1990s would end up being wildly successful for UNC send Dean Smith out on a very high note. UNC would end up in five FInal Fours in the 1990s with one national title. In between those seasons were what can only be described as the other side of the pendulum swing where UNC came down to earth a tad before bouncing back into national title contention(1994 was an obvious exception.) 1992 was such a step back followed by a huge step up to an NCAA banner.

The 1992 team was mostly made up of younger players. UNC lost King Rice, Pete Chilcutt and Rick Fox from the 1991 Final Four team. Clifford Rozier had transferred to Louisville which was an addition by subtraction situation. The team boasted one senior in Hubert Davis and a boatload of underclassman talent sending a fairly clear signal that if things did not break right this season the next season would be the real deal.

Of course for most of this season UNC looked every bit like a serious player. The Heels opened up at 18-3 but had that infamous loss to Florida State in the Noles first ACC game ever which led to the oft quoted line from Sam Cassell about the Dean Dome being a "wine and cheese" crowd. UNC would end up being swept by Florida State and NC State in 1992 which was annoying various levels, especially since I spent a lot of time around NC State fans.

The game of the season, like every season came versus Duke in Chapel Hill. UNC won 75-73 but this game is perhaps known more for the image of Eric Montross bleeding from a cut under his eye that was a staple of UNC-Duke promos on ESPN until The Elbow happened. The Heels' win marked the first time Duke had lost that season and one of only two losses for the Devils as they unfortunately repeated as national champions. The win also was the high point of the season.

UNC won twice more then hit a major skid of four straight losses and five of their final six games. Four of the five losses came on the road most likely pointing to youth being a factor in how the team performed in hostile environments. UNC did recover to avoid going 0-3 versus Florida State for the season but lost to Duke in almost an exact reversal of the ACC title game from the season before. In the NCAA Tournament, UNC struggled to put away Miami(OH) before dispatching a very tough Alabama team in the 2nd round. Ohio State ended the Heels' season a few days later.

Personnel wise, only Hubert Davis, George Lynch and Henrik Rodl had significant experience. The remaining members of the incredible 1990 recruiting class were merely sophomores and Donald Williams was struggling to find his game as a freshman. Williams endured a great deal of pressure considering he was from Garner and so much focus was on him to perform considering how highly regarded he was coming out of high school. Since I was living near Garner and was only two years younger than Williams I heard all sorts of stories about the things he did in high school such as pulling up just across half court and drilling a three. Williams established a fairly lofty legend locally and when he went to UNC people sort of expected more of the same. When it did not happen concerns were raised, concerns which were buried in 1993.

I also enjoyed a personal connection to this team. I attended the same church as walk-on Travis Stepheson and was good friends with the family. During one of the church fundraisers there was an auction and Stepheson had donated a basketball autographed by the entire 1992 team. Daddy decided to bid on the basketball and buy it for me knowing how much I loved the Heels. He won it and I still have that basketball today as a reminder of Daddy and also how much fun it was watching UNC basketball back in those days.

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Countdown So Far

21. 1996
22. 1999
23. 2000
24. 2004
25. 1990
26. 2003
27. 2002