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THF Countdown #5: 1998

Season: 1997-98
Record: 34-4 overall, 13-3 ACC(2nd place)
ACC Tournament: Won Championship
NCAA Tournament: Lost to Utah(yes, Utah) in the Final Four

Roster: Brian Bersticker, Michael Brooker, Vince Carter, Ed Cota, Brad Frederick, Brendan Haywood, Antawn Jamison, Makhtar Ndiaye, Terrence Newby, Ademola Okulaja, Max Owens, Scott Williams, Shammond Williams.

Source: UNC Media Guide

A microcosm of the 1998 season:

That is an absolutely spectacular play except Vince Carter missed the dunk.  Likewise this was an absolutely spectacular season of Tar Heel basketball except they did not win the national title.

This team had all the parts.  Ed Cota was the purest point guard UNC has ever had.  Shammond Williams brought the outside shooting along with Vince Carter who was also in charge of providing entertainment in that Michael Jordan/Jerry Stackhouse sorta way.  Antawn Jamison was the national player of the year and very much resembled a cat with his quick ability to score.  Add a role player like Ademola Okulaja, the quintissential versaility player, to the mix you have a nearly perfect college basketball team.  The issue they had was depth because they had none.  Mahktar Ndyiae also saw significant time but I am hard pressed to tell you what the heck he ever did besides accusing a Utah player of being a racist.

Anyway, this team was a lot of fun and they were the favorite to win the national title when they go to San Antonio.  The main issue this team had was the lack of depth and the fact they basically had a limited number of weapons.  Of the games they lost, fatigue got them in Durham, the loss at Maryland was simply a standard ACC road loss, NCSU got crazy shooting(as usual) in the really only inexplicable defeat of the season and the loss to Utah was all about cold shooting.  I have no idea what kind of issue Shammond Williams had but Final Fours ate him alive.

Despite the way things ended, this season holds a lot of fond memories for most UNC fans.  The two wins over Duke were absolutely the sweetest victories.  The media was high on both teams but Duke received copious amounts of love and it was nice to see UNC crush them not just once in Chapel Hill but again for the ACC Championship.  And UNC would have screwed Duke on senior day at Cameron had the building been air conditioned and the Heels not zapped by the heat.

Among the other notable wins was a 48 point smackdown of Florida State.  There was also the infamous game against Clemson in Chapel Hill where the Tigers had so many foul out they ended the game with four players on the court.  Gotta love those Rick Barnes teams.   UNC apparently need at least three OTs to beat teams while in the state of Georgia.

The sort of sad aspect concerning this season is how it ultimately foiled Dean Smith's original plan.  Dean decided to leave in October with a loaded roster in place and high hopes that Bill Guthridge could also win a national title with a team built to do exactly that.  It was an incredible act of loyalty and if Guthridge wins the title, what happened after that probably stings a little less, even if it still unfolds the same way. As it turns out, we ended up nothing to show for those six years except a lot of heartache and 8-20.

Countdown So Far

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