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THF Countdown #2: 2005

Season: 2004-05
Record: 34-4 overall, 14-2 ACC(1st place)
ACC Tournament: Lost to Georgia Tech in the semifinals
NCAA Tournament: Won National Championship

Roster: Charlie Everett, Raymond Felton, Brooks Foster, Damion Grant, Jesse Holley, C.J. Hooker, Jackie Manuel, Sean May, Rashad McCants, Wes Miller, David Noel, Byron Sanders, Melvin Scott,
Reyshawn Terry, Quentin Thomas, Jawad Williams, Marvin Williams.

Source: UNC Media Guide

The season that made everything right again.

So what was your intial thoughts when the Heels dropped that game to Santa Clara?  I think mine were along the lines of "Oh crap!"  Raymond Felton did not play and for some reason Roy's teams at UNC have struggled in first game of the season.  The Heels recovered by the time they hit Maui and rolled from there with the only blemishes they had the rest of the regular season was at Wake Forest and at Duke.  Sort of like 1993.

As well as UNC was playing, despite the two road losses in the ACC, everything was almost derailed by Rashad McCants sickness.  McCants came down with an unexplained gastrointestinal issue and missed four games.  During that stretch UNC beat NCSU and Maryland on the road.  The game in College Park was a huge win with Sean May basically taking the team on his shoulders.  Following a win over FSU, UNC faced Duke in Chapel Hill winning what is considered to be one of the greatest games in Dean Dome history. I could never do the last three minutes of that game justice so here it is:

From there the stage appeared to be set except for the slight struggle in ACC Tournament as they integrated McCants back in the lineup.  The Heels had way too much trouble with Clemson and then lost to Georgia Tech in the ACC semifinals which cost me the power button on my TV after I punched it in anger following the loss.  UNC seems to have a lot trouble with GT in the ACC Tournament.  2005 was no different.  Sort of like 1993.

Despite this loss, UNC was #2 entering the NCAA Tournament cruising into the Sweet Sixteen where they played a very testy game with Villanova.  This game started out with all the makings of a classic UNC upset in the tournament but UNC's talent ultimately got the best of Villanova and UNC lead by 10 in the final minutes when all hell broke loose.  The Heels surrendered most of the lead in short order and had Allen Ray not traveled before driving to the basket, Nova could have tied the game.  UNC then dispatched Wisconsin to return to the Final Four for the first time since 2000.

In St. Louis, UNC fell behind Michigan State early on but ultimately rallied to crush the Spartans.  Two days later UNC would face #1 Illinois in the first #1 vs #2 national title game since 1975.  Suprisingly enough UNC dominated most of this game save for at least two stretches in which they allowed Illinois back in the game.  The Illini had no answer for Sean May inside but it was Rashad McCants perimeter shooting early on that got the Heels rolling with a balanced offense.  UNC did a great job of limiting Illinois from getting good outside looks(despite the illegal screens.)  Late in the game it was a huge three from Felton and yet another tip-in by Marvin Williams that sealed the deal.  The play of Sean May was what made it all possible all season long.  May was both Donald Williams and George Lynch all wrapped into one by being both the offensive force on the floor and the leadership the team needed.

The significance of this national title cannot be overstated.  Roy Williams had long labored as the best coach to never win a title and May was adamant that it was his goal to end that nonsense once and all.  In terms of the bigger picture it was the redemption of the UNC program from a walk in the valley of college basketball.  UNC had essentially struggled since 1998 ever since the bulk of the Dean Smith players left the program.  Roy Williams was seen as the one coach who could set things right and even that considered a tough task with the way Matt Doherty left.  Roy took a group of players who during the first year under Roy showed little interest in what it took to win a title and transformed them into a dominant basketball squad focused and title bound.  This fact alone is why I laugh at anyone who plays the "Roy won a title with someone else's players" card because when you compare recruiting the players to actually coaching them up into a cohesive unit able to weather the storms of March. The latter is a heck of a lot harder and a larger chunk of the job.

When UNC won the title in 2005 it was a signal that the Heels were back and the downturn in the early part of the decade was brief. Based on what happens in 2009 and beyond we could look back at the 2005 team as the birth of a new golden era of UNC basketball.

Countdown So Far

3. 1993
4. 2008
5. 1998
6. 1995
7. 1984
8. 1987
9. 1997
10. 1991
11. 2007
12. 1986
13. 1994
14. 1983
15. 1989
16. 1988
17. 1985
18. 2006
19. 2001
20. 1992
21. 1996
22. 1999
23. 2000
24. 2004
25. 1990
26. 2003
27. 2002