Last summer after we finished up with the whole testing the waters business things got pretty slow around here so I thought it was be fun if I went through and ranked all of the UNC teams I had seen play which was 1982 to present. Now we have another edition of the Tar Heels in the books let us revisit that countdown and see where the 2009 team fits in.
First of all by way of review here was the top five:
According to the standard I used any national title team is ranked above any UNC team that failed to win the title. Of course had the 2000 team won the national title I would have great difficulty ranking them ahead of many of the other Final Four teams that came up short. In the case of 2009 we do not have any such issues. Based on this 2009 moves to at least #4 ahead of 2008.
The first question we have is whether 2009 is better than 1993? In my mind it is a clear yes. 2009 was simply better at almost every position. George Lynch probably trumps Deon Thompson. Wayne Ellington and Donald Williams are probably even. Tyler Hansbrough might have some issues dealing with Eric Montross' height but I also think Hansbrough's extended range would pull Montross out of the middle. Danny Green trumps Brian Reese and Ty Lawson is absolutely better than Derrick Phelps. 1993 did have a deeper bench but no one like Ed Davis coming off of it. In the end 2009 has too many weapons on the floor for 1993 to effectively stop.
So, that leaves us with the debate everyone has been wanting to have since the middle of the season. Is 2009 better than 2005 and therefore able to move up to #2 in the THF Countdown? The various places I have seen this debated always uses a position by position evaluation in an effort to declare a winner. I am not going to do that here because I think the personnel matchup is ultimately a wash. In my mind the pertinent question is whether the 2009 offense in all its glory can roll the 2005 defense? In fact that was pretty much the big question the 2009 team answered in winning the title. All season we heard about how the 2009 team's defense was a problem without considering what might happen if the offense showed up for six straight games. Clearly they did and were quite dominant in doing it. If the 2009 team showed up with the same offense they won the title with I am not sure the 2005 team would have a sufficient answer. The major issue you have in stopping the 2009 team is if all the players are hitting shots, there is no weak link to exploit. With the 2005 team Jackie Manuel was a major offensive liability. There were clear weak spots in the offensive makeup of the 2005 team which did not exist for the 2009 team. Those deficiencies might be the difference between the two even though we are talking about inches.
Another factor in this discussion is the intangibles. While I want to refrain from extending this debate to consider the previous year's incarnation of these respective teams as it pertains to evaluating them, both these teams operated with the same core of players for a period of at least two seasons. The 2004 and 2008 teams were very similar to the teams that won a title the next season. 2009 probably dealt with the most upheaval in losing Marcus Ginyard but at the same time received an upgrade in Ed Davis over Alex Stepheson. The 2008 team also went 36-3. The 2004 win 19 games then came back the next season and won 34 to take home the title. The question is does this matter? I think it is relevant. The 2009 was an extension of the 2008 team and at the end of the day they compiled a incredible 70-7 mark in two seasons. The reason I think this matters lies in the difficulty involved of maintaining a certain level of play. The 2009 came into the season having posted the most wins in UNC history during the previous year and was expected to win the national title. That is a tremendous level of pressure to deal with as well as maintaining a certain level of play. The 2005 team came in with expectations but coming off a 19 win season they were considered one of many contenders. Yes, they played at a very high level but in many ways I think it is easier the first time through to be really good. To be really good or great over a two year span is more remarkable. In terms of other intangibles 2009 was a more seasoned team and fueled by bitterness of losing to Kansas in the previous Final Four.
Ultimately we a splitting hairs here. In fact I could reasonably declare this a tie at #2 but that would be a cop out. In the end I think the intangibles and the manner in which 2009 ran through the NCAA Tournament gives UNC's fifth NCAA title team the edge over the fourth. Without further ado here is the THF Countdown updated for 2009:
One more thing. Lest anyone suggest it 1982 is still #1 with a bullet. I thought at the beginning of the season that 2009 could eclipse 1982 but it would take something along the lines of 38-1 or 37-2 with the loss(es) being in the regular season. 1982 was just a great team. James Worthy, Sam Perkins and Michael Jordan are really all you have to say but also consider this: UNC went 4-1 against teams with the following players: Patrick Ewing, Ralph Sampson, Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon. They also won a #1 vs #2 game against Kentucky, won the ACC Tournament and generally were awesome.