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THF Countdown #24: 2004

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Season: 2003-2004
Record: 19-11 overall, 8-8 ACC(5th place)
ACC Tournament: Lost to Georgia Tech in the quarterfinals

NCAA Tournament: Lost to Texas in the 2nd Round

Roster: Justin Bohlander, Raymond Felton, Damion Grant, Jesse Holley, C.J. Hooker, Jackie Manuel, Sean May, Rashad McCants, Phillip McLamb, Jonathan Miller, David Noel, Damien Price, Byron Sanders, Melvin Scott, Reyshawn Terry, Jawad Williams

Source: UNC Media Guide

Okay, the argument can be made that this team should be ranked below the 1990 team. The 2004 version, Roy Williams first at UNC, won two fewer games, finished two spots lower in the ACC and was eliminated a round earlier in the NCAA Tournament. So why ranked them a spot higher than 1990? Well, because even with these factors considered I think the 2004 team was better than 1990. And yes this is not necessarily grounded in logic and might be based on projecting the following season on these two in ranking them.

Interestingly enough 1990 and 2004 very similar in many ways. Both seasons were transition seasons overcoming chemistry issues from the previous season though the 2004 was dealing with something far bigger than 1990 did. Both beat the #1 team in the nation at some point during the season. Also, both 1990 and 2004 preceded Final Four teams with the latter resulting in a national title.

From a player standpoint, 2004 was about watching the team grow and adapt to Roy's new system. Rashad McCants' slowness to adjust has been well documented and probably not in total fairness at times, still McCants was the best shooter on the team and led the team with 20.0 ppg. Raymond Felton led the ACC in assists showing significant progress over his freshman season. Sean May led the ACC in rebounding with almost to 10 per game. This core of three players surrounded by guys like Jawad Williams, Jackie Manuel and Melvin Scott formed a solid team that basically one season away.

What I find interesting is despite the previous season of trouble the 2004 team was highly regarded by the polls as well as being painfully close to winning several games they would ultimately lose. The 8-8 ACC mark included three OT losses(one of them triple OT at home versus Wake Forest) and a two point loss to UVa late in the season. The main issue the 2004 team had was with their offense. The Heels only shot 45% from the floor which was the lowest mark for a UNC team since 1968 with the exception of(say it with me) the Doherty years. UNC needed to learn how to win the close ones, a lesson what was very handy the following season.

Looking back, if 2004 team was anything, it was like waking up from some strange nightmare. What makes most nightmares so disturbing is they usually string together a series of events that scare the life out of you and despite you most fervent desire to stop it you can't. Then all of sudden, it ends because you wake up and find yourself a little shaken and confused. It takes you a few minutes to clear your head at which point you tell yourself over and over it was only a dream. 2004 was necessary to clear the head and help us believe that the nightmare was over. In many ways it has that groggy, confusing feel about it and it honestly took seeing the Heels playing Air Force in the NCAA Tournament to truly believe the nightmare was indeed over.

Countdown So Far

#25. 1990
#26. 2003
#27. 2002