Today is Back to the Future Day which denotes the day in the movie Back to the Future II, Marty McFly arrives from 30 years in the past. The movie trilogy, assuming you've seen them, deals with how history can be altered by seemingly minor events. In honor of the day here are five "What Ifs" from UNC sports history.
1. The 1998 basketball team wins the NCAA Championship
This may have had a profound impact on the way things eventually turned out in Chapel Hill. According to Roy Williams in his book Hard Work, Guthridge was only going to coach one season in Chapel Hill. The theory goes that Guthridge wins a title with the loaded 1998 team then rides off into the sunset. At that point UNC would have turned to Williams who would have left Kansas for UNC.
Williams showing up in Chapel Hill six years sooner possibly curbs Duke's dominance but more importantly saves UNC from the massive drop off that soon occurred. The lack of recruiting under Guthridge followed by Matt Doherty's disastrous tenure never happens in favor of a seamless transition from Dean Smith to his greatest protege.
2. Connor Barth misses the game winning field goal versus Miami in 2004
Speaking of coaches who stayed too long, what if Connor Barth had missed the the game winning field goal versus Miami in 2004? To set the scene, UNC had played #3 ranked Miami to a 28-28 tie and had the ball on the plus side of the field for freshman kicker Connor Barth to attempt a game winning field goal. Barth does the job giving UNC a 31-28 win as time expired.
Had Barth missed, the game would have gone to overtime and it's possible UNC still wins the game. However if UNC had not then the Tar Heels would not have been bowl eligible that season. The win is also widely considered a big reason why John Bunting stayed in Chapel Hill another season which ended up being a 3-9 disaster. Without the win over Miami does Dick Baddour pull the trigger a year early? If he does is it possible UNC takes a shot at Steve Spurrier or another solid coach? Maybe Butch Davis never comes and UNC avoids NCAA troubles?
3. The 2012 basketball team stays injury free
This is probably one of the favorite "what ifs" UNC fans love to discuss and one that brings a fair amount of anger directed towards the state of Nebraska. While much of the focus is given to Kendall Marshall's wrist injury, it should be noted John Henson wasn't completely healthy either. Henson injured his wrist in the ACC Tournament Quarterfinals versus Maryland. Because he returned for the game against Creighton, played well and gave the Heels a huge emotional boost, everyone assumes he was fine. That wasn't the case. Henson was still struggling with the wrist injury during the Sweet Sixteen and in the regional final against Kansas. On top of that he turned his ankle leaving him hobbled and playing with one good hand.
Had both been healthy UNC probably makes it to the Final Four with relative ease. UNC played Kansas even for 35 minutes then was outscored 10-0 over the final five minutes of the game. It is not a stretch to believe the presence of Marshall and a healthy Henson pushes UNC past Kansas and into the Final Four.
From there UNC would have faced a tough defensive team in Ohio State. It is also the Final Four so while the Tar Heels probably would have been favored, nothing is a lock on that stage. Still it is tough to ignore that UNC was, at the very least, denied a Final Four by the two injuries. The absence of the Final Four tainted how the past three seasons have been evaluated. A Final Four or title would have cushioned the attrition that followed. Absent that made the past three seasons more frustrating and has increased pressure on the 2016 team to produce a title.
Some other what ifs
Kenny Smith doesn't break his wrist versus LSU
Michael Jordan doesn't pick up his third foul in the first half versus Indiana
Arkansas Dwight Stewart's halfcourt shot at the end of the first half misses in the 1994 Final Four.
The referees call Seth Currry for traveling or Mason Plumlee for pushing Tyler Zeller in the back in the 2012 game versus Duke in Chapel Hill.
T.J. Yates doesn't injure his ankle versus Virginia Tech in 2008.
Marvin Austin stays off social media and Robert Quinn doesn't turn his phone over to NCAA investigators.