In a season like this one, choosing a “best win” is not the easiest thing to do. There are just way fewer options than there normally are. UNC went 14-19, and only six of those 14 were conference games. Half of the eight non-conference wins were against low level opposition that the Tar Heels don’t deserve much credit for winning. There’s not a massive amount of feasible choices.
If you want to go with the win over the best team UNC beat, then the answer is probably the win over Oregon in the Battle 4 Atlantis. The Ducks were ranked #11 when the Tar Heels beat them 78-74 back in November. However, between the fact that it was so long ago and that it happened before the injuries and things started to go bad. So instead, let’s go with a more recent win that was a little more fun.
After going 1-1 in ACC play back before the new year, UNC opened the conference slate in full on January 4th against Georgia Tech. They lost that game. And the next one. And the next one...
A double overtime loss to Virginia Tech saw the Tar Heels drop to 1-6 in conference and 8-10 overall. They crushed Miami in their next game, but that was against a Hurricanes team that was also dealing with injuries to major players. Two days after that was a matchup with a team that would’ve really wanted to beat UNC.
Carolina went into Raleigh to play NC State on January 27th down Cole Anthony and Jeremiah Francis, in addition the long term absences of Anthony Harris and Sterling Manley. That meant the starting lineup that night was Garrison Brooks, Leaky Black, Brandon Robinson, Armando Bacot, and Andrew Platek.
Meanwhile, NC State came into the game with a 14-6 record. They had lost to Georgia Tech the previous game, but had picked up a win over Virginia before that. Joe Lunardi had them as an #11 seed at the time, so this was a game that, at the time, seemed like they really couldn’t afford to lose.
The Wolfpack got out to a 7-0 lead before a Brooks’ layup finally got UNC on the board almost three minutes in. Carolina quickly cut into that and the teams would trade the lead a couple times in the first half. Led by five-straight Bacot points, the Tar Heels looked like they were going to go into the half up three if the freshman could complete and and one. However, he missed the free throw. So many times this season, UNC’s luck would be that the opponent would get the rebound and hit a three down the other end. Instead, Brooks grabbed the rebound and put it back to give the Heels a four-point lead at the break.
State scored the first two points of the second half, but Carolina then went on a run to take their lead to nine points. Anyone who watched this UNC team this season knows that a lead of doesn’t necessarily mean anything. They’ve blown bigger ones. Not this day.
A lot of the rest of the game would play out like this: NC State cuts it to three points. UNC takes it back out to five. State cuts it to three again. UNC goes on a run to make it eight. With just under seven minutes left, a Devon Daniels’ dunk made it 65-61. At that point, you couldn’t help but feel like it was happening again.
Instead, Carolina scored the next six points, and the lead was 10 again. Helpfully, both teams then went into a drought, where they only scored two points between them in three minutes. By the time that was over, UNC still had a lead. It was time for the end of game free throw parade where Robinson calmly sunk four straight and the Tar Heels came out with a 10-point win.
Brooks led all scorers, going for 25 points, while grabbing 11 rebounds. Bacot finished with a double-double. Robinson had to go back to the locker room for treatment two different times, and managed to fight through it and finish off the game. Platek made some important plays. Pretty much everyone contributed something.
About a month later, UNC finished off an unlikely sweep of State with a six-point win at home. The BracketMatrix.com composite off all Bracketology sources had State as the literal last at large team in. However if they hadn’t, a large part would’ve been getting swept by this particular Carolina team, which would’ve been amusing.