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THF Countdown #21: 1996

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Season: 1995-1996
Record: 21-11 overall, 10-6 ACC(3rd place)
ACC Tournament: Lost to Clemson in the quarterfinals

NCAA Tournament: Lost to Texas Tech in the 2nd Round

Roster: Dante Calabria, Vince Carter, Ed Geth, Antawn Jamison, Clyde Lynn, Jeff McInnis, Charlie McNairy, David Neal, Ademola Okulaja, Ryan Sullivan, Webb Tyndall, Shammond Williams, Serge Zwikker.

Source: UNC Media Guide

So, why does 1996 rank one spot ahead of 1999? Well because 1999 lost to Weber State and 1996 had Antawn Jamison.

Actually, the 1996 team was slightly better when you consider the ACC was much stronger in 1996(six teams in the NCAA Tournament) versus 1999(only three NCAA Tournament teams.) The Heels also ended up playing top ten Villanova twice due to a weird twist involving facing them in Maui and then as a part of their regular schedule.

This UNC team is similar to the 2006 version in that they came into the season after losing at least two key players to the NBA and depending on a freshman big man to keep things rolling. Of course 1996 did return Jeff McInnis at point and Dante Calbria at SG with Serge Zwikker developing into a decent big man which was far more than they had coming into 2006. Antawn Jamison was the real surprise making an immediate impact as a freshman the same way Tyler Hansbrough did.

What ended up happening with 1996 was it became a tale of two seasons. The first was very good despite a couple of non-conference losses as UNC ran through the ACC at 7-1 and beat Duke in Chapel Hill off an insane putback shot by Dante Calabria as he fell to the court. After that things seemed to fall apart a bit as the Heels went 4-5 over the last nine games then lost to Rick Barnes and Clemson in the ACC Tournament which was a fairly disgusting moment in my mind. This loss came a year after Barnes had gotten in Dean Smith's face in the 1995 ACC Tournament plus Clemson played basketball in a way that would have made Boston College proud. At this point the wheels had officially come off with the season being put out of it's misery by losing to Texas Tech in the 2nd round of the NCAA Tournament in a game that included a Red Raider player shattering the backboard on a dunk. You realize pretty quickly it is over when something like that happens to you.

Looking back, it was obvious that something chemistry wise went awry in the 2nd half of the season. Jeff McInnis also seems to have been the source of those issues. It was clear he was in Dean's doghouse and the fact he was allegedly sleeping with Phil Ford's wife probably had something to do with that. By the time the season ended Dean encouraged McInnis to go the way of JR Reid and head to the NBA instead of bringing him back with all sorts risk involved. You also have to wonder to what extent Dean was convinced Ed Cota could come in and be a four year impact PG. Apparently he had it in mind since he was more than willing to show McInnis the door a year early.

This was basically a transition season and we really did not mind it so much since 1995 was a Final Four year and 1997 looked bright coming on the horizon.

Countdown So Far

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