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Beyond The Arc: UNC #2 Greatest Program

Another one of those fun set of rankings that is actually pretty well done.

The NBC Sports blog, Beyond the Arc has been running a weekly feature counting down the greatest basketball programs of all time.  UNC popped up this week at #2 on the list(Kentucky will be #1.)  These kind of rankings are interesting and I had a blast doing it this summer with UNC teams.  The author of the blog is Mike Miller who sat on the bench under Roy Williams as a player.

I really cannot argue to heavily with UNC's slot at #2.  Kentucky has more NCAA titles and at present more wins.  In many ways their overall historical success eclipses UNC by a bit though if UNC goes 38-2 and wins another title, you might have to swap these two in these rankings.  Miller's reasoning for placing UNC here was the absurd consistency of excellent the Heels have enjoyed.  You basically have two bad seasons since Dean Smith got the ball rolling in the early 60s.  That is hard to compete with by any standard.  I do take issue with a couple of points he makes:

UNC has won 33 regular-season conference titles (4th), and at least two a decade since 1920. Only Kansas and Kentucky have done better.

Yes Kansas and UK have more regular-season conference titles but both them also play in weaker conferences than the ACC historically speaking.  The Big 8/Big 12 and the SEC are football power conferences with basketball is a second fiddle save for the three months it is going on by itself.  Kansas and Kentuck are basketball schools in football conferences.  UNC is a basketball school in what has historically been a basketball conference meaning their degree of difficulty was a little tougher.

When longtime assistant Bill Guthridge took over, the Heels didn’t miss a beat. (Having Carter and player of the year Antawn Jamison helps.) But after just three seasons – and two Final Fours – Guthridge had enough.

New coach and ex-Heel Matt Doherty took Carolina to No. 1 in just his first season, but his eventual demise has become a cautionary tale for how to handle star players. An 8-20 season followed by an NIT berth? Unacceptable.

Wrong on both counts.  It is easy to point to the 2000 Final Four and say UNC has not missed a beat but that team almost did not make the tournament and then had the bracket open up for them after they knocked off a weak #1 seed in Stanford.  The 1999 team was good but ultimately fell to Weber State in the first round of the tournament.  Even the 1998 team is considered extremely disappointing because they were loaded and had a winnable Final Four field but lost to Utah.  I will leave it to others to debate how much of the ultimate failures on the court can be laid on Guthridge as a coach.  I suspect there is some blame to be had there.

As for the "Matt Doherty was fired because UNC was losing" mem, this is standard fare for ABCers.  Yes, the losing did not help matters but personnel issues did most of the damage. The 8-20 season can really be blamed on the lack of recruiting under Guthridge.  And it was not an issue of handling star players for Doherty it was an issue of handling people in general and understanding things like tact or how to make transitions without pissing very important people off.

Overall, Miller did a fairly good job of balancing his countdown.  It was refreshing to see someone not so infatuated with the last 27 years of Duke basketball that they permit the Coach K Era to trump long term historical success.  Duke came in at #5.  UCLA was #4 and Kansas #3.  Also, NC State with their two NCAA titles and deep roots in the infancy of the ACC came in at #25.