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THF Countdown #26: 2003

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Season: 2002-2003
Record: 19-16 overall, 6-10 ACC(6th place tie)
ACC Tournament: Beat Maryland in the quarterfinals, lost to Duke in the semifinals.

NIT: Beat DePaul and Wyoming; Lost to Georgetown

Roster: Raymond Felton, Damion Grant, Jonathan Holmes, Will Johnson, Jackie Manuel, Sean May, Rashad McCants, Phillip McLamb, Jonathan Miller, David Noel, Damien Price, Byron Sanders, Melvin Scott, Jawad Williams.

Source: UNC Media Guide

Yeah, it was pretty obvious that the two teams which did not make the NCAA Tournament would be at the bottom of this countdown.

Following the shock of 8-20, UNC opened the next season with a glimmer of young hope.  A highly touted freshman class joined Jackie Manuel, Jawad Williams and Melvin Scott in what was seen as the beginning of the rise from the ashes.  Adam Boone and Brian Morrison had transferred from the program in what was later seen as a sign of trouble under Matt Doherty.  Jason Capel and Kris Lang, carrying much of the blame from fans for the 8-20 debacle had graduated leaving a team in place that many assumed would restore UNC to glory.  And they were correct, it just would take two years and a coaching change to get there.

Unlike the traumatic experience which was the 2002 season, 2003 had some actual highlights.  UNC won the preseason NIT and beat #2 Kansas coached by the man who would be running the program a year later.  It also included beating Duke in Chapel Hill to end the season which was marred by Doherty almost coming to blows with Chris Collins in front of the Duke bench.  Not that many would have minded seeing Collins laid out, it was also another sign of the times under Doherty leading to eventual player revolt and Dick Baddour cutting his losses and asking Doherty to please go away.

As much as this season will be remembered more for what happened after it ended than during, there stands a great "what if" in the form of Sean May's broken ankle. Roy himself has said that had May not broken his ankle prior to ACC play then Doherty holds onto his job because it is assumed UNC would have gotten back to the NCAA Tournament and winning cures a multitude of ills, including criticisms that the coach was a screaming banshee.  I am not so sure that would have been the case.  While UNC did win the NIT to start the season, they also dropped games Illinois and Kentucky followed by an inexplicable loss to Iona.  The team was young and largely inconsistent with the personality conflicts between coach and player becoming more of an issue the longer the season went on.

If May continued to play it is possible UNC ends up 9-7 instead of 6-10 in the ACC securing some kind of NCAA berth. Then again I am convinced the off the court circus was going to explode anyway, May's bad break leading to the 19-16 season merely precipitated it sooner rather than later.  As it turned out, Roy came in at just the right time and two years later all was right with the world in Chapel Hill.

Countdown So Far:

#27. 2002