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ACC Conference openers and finishes under Roy Williams

With the first ACC game over with, let’s look at how Roy Williams’ UNC teams have opened conference play compared with where they’ve finished in the standings.

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

The North Carolina Tar Heels escaped by the skin of their teeth against Wake Forest on Saturday, winning 73-69. Similar to its shocking loss to Wofford, Carolina came out lackadaisical and appeared to get complacent at times, allowing Wake Forest to stick around and very nearly hand the Tar Heels their second straight home loss.

While their performance was uninspiring and exposed plenty of things to work on in practice, UNC has had its share of disappointing starts to conference play under Roy Williams. Not only that, but this was actually his first win against Wake Forest in ACC openers in three attempts. Let’s look back at Coach Williams’ previous conference openers at UNC and how those teams ended up in the conference standings.

2003-2004

ACC Opener: 119-114 loss vs. Wake Forest

In an earlier-than-usual December 20 conference game, the Tar Heels battled with the Demon Deacons through three overtimes. Ultimately, Roy Williams’ first ACC game as UNC’s head coach was a loss. The season didn’t get too much better from that point on, as the Heels finished .500 (8-8) in conference play.

ACC Finish: 5th

2004-2005

ACC Opener: 85-51 win at Virginia Tech

After losing the season opener at Santa Clara, the Tar Heels went on a 14-game tear that included a walloping of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg to kick off its ACC slate. This team did much better in conference play, finishing 14-2 and, of course, going on to win Roy Williams’ first and UNC’s fourth national championship.

ACC Finish: 1st

2005-2006

ACC Opener: 82-69 win vs. North Carolina State

UNC had lost the majority of its production from the previous season and was expected to have somewhat of a rebuilding year. Then, a man named Tyler Hansbrough arrived to Chapel Hill and led the Tar Heels to a victory over a 13th-ranked Wolfpack squad. Carolina went on to have a respectable 12-4 record in the conference and capped it off with a spoiling of J.J. Redick’s senior night at Cameron Indoor.

ACC Finish: 2nd

2006-2007

ACC Opener: 84-58 win vs. Florida State

UNC got off to a hot start with a lopsided victory over Florida State. Led by freshman Ty Lawson at point guard, this young squad did about as expected in the ACC. They finished 11-5 during a year in which no team truly stood out as the top team in the conference. Still, eleven wins was enough to put them in a tie atop the standings with Virginia.

ACC Finish: 1st

2007-2008

ACC Opener: 90-88 win at Clemson

This Tar Heels team rolled through non-conference play with an unblemished record. They kicked off ACC play with a tough road tilt with 19th-ranked Clemson. The Tigers gave them all they could handle, but Wayne Ellington famously hit a dagger three with 0.4 seconds left in overtime to send the Tar Heels home with a win. This team continued its dominance through the rest of league play, finishing 14-2.

ACC Finish: 1st

2008-2009

ACC Opener: 85-78 loss vs. Boston College

After Tyler Hansbrough, Danny Green, Ty Lawson, and Wayne Ellington all decided to return to school, the Tar Heels entered this season as the overwhelming favorites to win it all. After once again going undefeated in the non-conference, Carolina suffered a head-scratching home loss to Boston College followed by another loss to Wake Forest. Instead of panicking, this veteran squad picked itself up and won 13 of its next 14, finishing 13-3 in conference. They then rolled through the NCAA tournament to secure Williams’ second national championship.

ACC Finish: 1st

2009-2010

ACC Opener: 78-64 win vs. Virginia Tech

After losing four starters from its championship squad, this team entered ACC play with slightly different expectations. Despite a comfortable home victory over Virginia Tech, the Tar Heels struggled mightily in the ACC, finishing 5-11. Plagued by youth and turnovers, this team failed to make the NCAA tournament, making it a season to forget.

ACC Finish: 10th

2010-2011

ACC Opener: 62-56 win at Virginia

After a disappointing season, the arrival of Kendall Marshall turned things around. The Tar Heels began ACC play with a solid road victory over Virginia, and once Marshall was given the start over Larry Drew II, the Heels darted towards a 14-2 record in conference.

ACC Finish: 1st

2011-2012

ACC Opener: 83-60 win vs. Boston College

Similar to 2008-2009, this team came in as the favorites to win it all. They took care of Boston College to open ACC play, but just two games later, they suffered a horrid 33-point loss at Florida State. The Tar Heels recovered, though, and once again finished 14-2 in the ACC. Were it not for an unfortunate Kendall Marshall injury, this team could’ve very well hung a national championship banner. Rather, they were bounced by Kansas in the elite eight.

ACC Finish: 1st

2012-2013

ACC Opener: 61-52 loss at Virginia

After losing the likes of Tyler Zeller, John Henson, Kendall Marshall, and Harrison Barnes, this team suffered a shaky start to conference play, losing to two unranked foes in Virginia and then Miami. This wasn’t uncharted territory for Roy Williams, though, and the Tar Heels ultimately recovered to finish 12-6 in the league’s first season playing 18 games.

ACC Finish: 3rd

2013-2014

ACC Opener: 73-67 loss at Wake Forest

This Tar Heel team epitomized the phrase “roller-coaster season” with top 15 wins over Kentucky, Louisville, and Michigan State, and losses to mid-majors Belmont and UAB. After a disappointing loss to Wake Forest, the Heels’ misfortune continued with two more losses that put them at 0-3 in the conference. Again, Coach Williams had been here before. His team rattled off thirteen of the next fifteen to finish 13-5 in the ACC.

ACC Finish: 4th

2014-2015

ACC Opener: 74-50 win at Clemson

Carolina easily took care of the Tigers on the road, but things didn’t go as well as planned after that. With six of their matchups coming against teams ranked 13th or higher, the Tar Heels and injury-riddled Marcus Paige limped to an 11-7 ACC record.

ACC Finish: 5th

2015-2016

ACC Opener: 80-69 win vs. Clemson

Another preseason number one squad, these Tar Heels started off conference play by extending their home record against Clemson to 58-0. The rest of ACC play had its ups and downs, but was about what you’d expect out of the title favorites, and they secured a 14-4 record. This team managed to live up to its expectations by reaching the title game, but a shot by Kris Jenkins at the buzzer made for a horribly cruel ending to the season.

ACC Finish: 1st

2016-2017

ACC Opener: 75-63 loss at Georgia Tech

The Tar Heels’ first conference game was absolutely one to forget. The entire team disappeared in what was an alarming defeat. But, as has become the norm, Roy Williams had his team looking elite again in no time, and Carolina finished 14-4 for the second straight year. The redemption tour began in March and was gloriously completed in April with Roy Williams hoisting his third and the school’s sixth national championship trophy.

ACC Finish: 1st

2017-2018

ACC Opener: 73-69 win vs. Wake Forest

This year’s Tar Heels are 1-0 in conference play, but it wasn’t exactly pretty. They had plenty of chances to bury the Demon Deacons in the second half and almost paid dearly because they couldn’t. However, this could be one of those opportunities that Coach Williams preaches about in which the team can learn a great deal without having to go home with a loss.

ACC Finish: TBD

Roy Williams’ Tar Heels have a tendency to come out sluggish against ACC competition from time to time. However, if there’s one thing to take away from this list, it’s this: Trust in Roy. Way more often than not, Williams has his teams playing their best basketball by the end of the season when it matters. These Tar Heels have struggled some lately, but we are miles away from having to hit the panic button.