clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

The Greatest UNC Team Bracket: Round 1, Part 1

New, comments

What was the best Tar Heel team of them all?

NCAA Men’s Final Four - Previews Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

This year’s NCAA Tournaments may be cancelled, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have some kind of bracket-ed fun.

Over the next couple weeks, you will get to vote for who you believe is the best UNC men’s basketball team of all time. From the national title winners to the juggernauts who got unlucky, all of them have been put into this 64-team bracket.

Like the actual tournament, this has been divided in four 16-team regions, each named after a Tar Heel national title winning coach. The teams have been seeded by how far they went in the NCAA Tournament/NIT, and then winning percentage. Pre-NCAA Tournament teams (ie 1924) have not been included as the sport was just too vastly different, and also no one alive has seen them. In addition to the NCAAT and NIT teams, a handful of squads that made neither have also been thrown in as lower seeds.

Now that you know the methodology, here are the first eight matchups you can vote on.

Dean Smith Region First Round

#1. 1956-57 vs. #16. 2001-02

1956-57

Record: 32-0 (14-0 ACC)

NCAA Tournament Finish: National Champions

Best Win: 3/23/57 - 54-53 (3OT) vs. #2 Kansas

AP Poll Peak Ranking: #1

The number one overall seed is the only UNC team in the NCAA Tournament era to win a title in an undefeated season. Frank McGuire’s team was perfect, winning games by about 13 points on average. Star senior Lennie Rosenbluth averaged 28.0 points and 8.8 rebounds while junior Pete Brennan went for 14.7 and 10.4 himself. The season was capped off by a triple overtime win over a Wilt Chamberlain-led Kansas team in the national championship game.

2001-02

Record: 8-20 (4-12 ACC)

NCAA Tournament Finish: lol

Best Win: 12/22/01 - 92-76 vs. #15 St. Joseph’s

AP Poll Peak Ranking: #19

It’s fitting that the UNC team with the best ever winning percentage faces the team with the worst. The 01-02 Heels led by Matt Doherty were the first time a Carolina team had finished below .500 since Dean Smith’s first season. Several members of this team would be around for the next national championship, but this probably won’t be a Virginia-UMBC 1/16 matchup.

Poll

Who was better?

This poll is closed

  • 97%
    #1. 1956-67
    (606 votes)
  • 2%
    #16. 2001-02
    (18 votes)
624 votes total Vote Now

(open in browser if you’re viewing in AMP)

#8. 1988-89 vs. #9. 1974-75

1988-89

Record: 29-8 (9-5 ACC)

NCAA Tournament Finish: Sweet 16

Best Win: 1/18/89 - 91-71 vs. #1 Duke

AP Poll Peak Ranking: #3

Led by J.R. Reid, this particular Heels team was well balanced with six different players averaging double digit points. They appeared to be peaking at the right time as the won the ACC Tournament with wins over NCAAT #6 seed Georgia Tech and Final Four participant Duke. They had to rally past UCLA to make it to the second weekend when they ran into eventual national champion Michigan.

1974-75

Record: 23-8 (8-4 ACC)

NCAA Tournament Finish: Sweet 16

Best Win: 3/8/75 - 70-66 vs. #8 NC State

AP Poll Peak Ranking: #6

In the first year with at-large bids in the NCAA Tournament, the Heels didn’t need one, beating two ranked teams to win the ACC Tournament. The triple threat of Mitch Kupchak, Phil Ford, and Walter Davis led the team to an undefeated home record. It should be noted that they only need one win for their “Sweet 16” appearance as it was a 32 team tournament. They lost their second game to Syracuse, who went on to make the Final Four.

Poll

Who was better?

This poll is closed

  • 37%
    #8. 1988-89
    (213 votes)
  • 62%
    #9. 1974-75
    (358 votes)
571 votes total Vote Now

#5. 1994-95 vs. #12. 1995-96

1994-95

Record: 28-6 (12-4 ACC)

NCAA Tournament Finish: Final Four

Best Win: 3/25/95 - 74-61 vs. #2 Kentucky

AP Poll Peak Ranking: #1

Jerry Stackhouse and Rasheed Wallace both made All-ACC First Team as this version of the Heels spent the entire season in the AP top five. They ended up as #2 seed in the NCAA Tournament, but handily put away #1 seeded Kentucky to advance to the Final Four, where they lost to Arkansas.

1995-96

Record: 21-11 (10-6 ACC)

NCAA Tournament Finish: Second Round

Best Win: 1/27/96 - 65-59 vs. #9 Wake Forest

AP Poll Peak Ranking: #8

The seedings worked out so that their opponent is the very next season. The ‘95-96 Heels lost both Stackhouse and Wallace and were still two years away from Antawn Jamison’s Player of the Year season. They were solidly a top 25 team for most of the season, but ended up as a #6 seed and lost in the second round to #3 Texas Tech.

Poll

Who was better?

This poll is closed

  • 96%
    #5. 1994-95
    (548 votes)
  • 3%
    #12. 1995-96
    (20 votes)
568 votes total Vote Now

#4. 1990-91 vs. #13. 2003-04

1990-91

Record: 29-6 (10-4 ACC)

NCAA Tournament Finish: Final Four

Best Win: 3/10/91 - 96-74 vs. #6. Duke

AP Poll Peak Ranking: #4

This season ended in a NCAA Tournament game that saw two coaches that combined for five national titles with UNC face-off. Roy Williams’ Kansas knocked out a Tar Heel team that crushed eventual national champions Duke in the ACC Tournament final. Rick Fox led the team with a first team All-ACC season.

2003-04

Record: 19-11 (8-8 ACC)

NCAA Tournament Finish: Second Round

Best Win: 1/17/04 - 86-83 vs. #1 UConn

AP Poll Peak Ranking: #4

Fittingly, the team that lost to Williams’ breakout Kansas team faced off against Williams’ first UNC team. The current Heels’ coach took over for Doherty and immediately led them back to the NCAA Tournament. There were bigger things ahead for this team, but it was a good season to get back on track.

Poll

Who was better?

This poll is closed

  • 89%
    #4. 1990-91
    (489 votes)
  • 10%
    #13. 2003-04
    (55 votes)
544 votes total Vote Now

#6. 1987-88 vs. #11. 2000-01

1987-88

Record: 27-7 (11-3 ACC)

NCAA Tournament Finish: Elite Eight

Best Win: 11/21/81 - 96-93 vs. #1 Syracuse

AP Poll Peak Ranking: #1

The season began with a bit of revenge as UNC beat Syracuse, who knocked them out of the NCAA Tournament the previous year. That took them to #1, which didn’t last long, but this team would spend the entire season in the top 10. They lost to Duke three times, dooming them to a #2 seed and an eventual loss to Arizona in the Elite Eight.

2000-01

Record: 26-7 (13-3 ACC)

NCAA Tournament Finish: Second Round

Best Win: 2/1/01 - 85-83 at #2 Duke

AP Poll Peak Ranking: #1

Doherty’s first year in Chapel Hill started off alright, as he led them to a first place finish in the ACC. Co-ACC Player of the Year Joseph Forte averaged 20.9 points per game. However, he was held to just six points on 3-13 shooting against Penn State in the second round of the Tournament as the Heels went home early. That may have been one of the first signs of what was to come.

Poll

Who was better?

This poll is closed

  • 81%
    #6. 1987-88
    (422 votes)
  • 18%
    #11. 2000-01
    (94 votes)
516 votes total Vote Now

#3. 1976-77 vs. #14. 2009-10

1976-77

Record: 28-5 (9-3 ACC)

NCAA Tournament Finish: National Runners-Up

Best Win: 3/26/77 - 84-84 vs. #4 UNLC

AP Poll Peak Ranking: #3

The format of the event back then meant that this will go down as one of the best runs ever by a team that didn’t end up winning the NCAA Tournament. UNC beat the numbers #10, #3, and #4 teams just to reach the national championship game. They lost to Marquette when they got there, but it was an incredible season for National Player of the Year Phil Ford and co.

2009-10

Record: 20-17 (5-11 ACC)

NCAA Tournament Finish: None, NIT Runners-Up

Best Win: 12/1/09 - 89-82 vs. #9 Michigan State

AP Poll Peak Rankings: #6

What was not an incredible run was ‘09-10. In the follow up to a national title, UNC faced a rebuilding job, and the first year of it was a down one. They had a couple wins over ranked teams in the non-conference season, but they struggled once the calendar turned to the new year, missing the NCAA Tournament in the process. A deep NIT run redeemed some dignity somewhat.

Poll

Who was better?

This poll is closed

  • 96%
    #3. 1976-77
    (494 votes)
  • 3%
    #14. 2009-10
    (17 votes)
511 votes total Vote Now

#7. 2010-11 vs. #10. 1978-79

2010-11

Record: 29-8 (14-2 ACC)

NCAA Tournament Finish: Elite Eight

Best Win: 3/5/11 - 81-67 vs. #4 Duke

AP Poll Peak Ranking: #6

A strong incoming recruiting class, including top-ranked Harrison Barnes, led to UNC coming in as a top ten team despite the previous season’s disappointment. A slow start led them to fall out of the top 25 from late November all the way to late January. However, an impressive ACC run led them to win the conference regular season title and get a #2 seed. The 2011 NCAAT was a win-able one, but the Heels were felled by Kentucky in the Elite Eight.

1978-79

Record: 23-6 (9-3 ACC)

NCAA Tournament Finish: Second Round

Best Win: 12/16/78 - 70-69 vs. #3 Michigan State

AP Poll Peak Ranking: #2

The 1979 edition was the first one in which the NCAA Tournament seeded teams in a manner similar to what we see now. UNC were the #1 seed in the East and would have been one of the favorite to win it all. Unfortunately, the Al Wood and Mike O’Koren led team were upset by Penn as part of “Black Sunday” on which Duke also lost. The Heels had knocked off eventual champion Michigan State in December, before Earvin Johnson became magical.

Poll

Who was better?

This poll is closed

  • 63%
    #7. 2010-11
    (325 votes)
  • 36%
    #10. 1978-79
    (186 votes)
511 votes total Vote Now

#2. 1967-68 vs. #15. 1960-61

1967-68

Record: 28-4 (12-2 ACC)

NCAA Tournament Finish: National Runners-Up

Best Win: 3/15/68 - 91-72 vs. #3 St. Bonaventure

AP Poll Peak Ranking: #3

Dean Smith made his first national championship game in his seventh year at the UNC helm. He just happened to run into the guy who’d won three of the last four and would win six of the next seven. The Larry Miller and Charlie Scott led Heels ran into John Wooden, Lew Alcindor, and UCLA in the title game and came up short. However, they had beaten future hall of famer Bob Lanier and St. Bonaventure in the first round.

1960-61

Record: 19-4 (12-2 ACC)

NCAA Tournament Finish: None

Best Win: 2/25/61 - 69-66 (OT) vs. #6 Duke

AP Poll Peak Ranking: #4

A sneaky strong #15 seed, this team ended up so low as they did not participate in the postseason due to being on NCAA probation. They would’ve had a shot in the big dance, as they had won the ACC regular season and beaten a really good Wake Forest team twice, in addition to wins over Duke and Kansas.

Poll

Who was better?

This poll is closed

  • 96%
    #2. 1967-68
    (484 votes)
  • 3%
    #15. 1960-61
    (18 votes)
502 votes total Vote Now