Tar Heels Hit The 26-2 Mark

Frequent commenter, william, posted a nice run down of all the UNC teams in the past 30 years that have managed to reach this point in the season with only two losses on the record. It is an incredible list of some great teams in UNC history with three of them finishing the deal and winning the national title. Thanks to william for pulling it together. The full list after the jump.

It is interesting that the 2007-08 UNC Tar Heels have gotten a fair amount of criticism from fans and writers alike for having had a lackluster season, particularly on the defensive end. What this probably indicates more than anything else is just how spoiled Tar Heel fans have gotten.

I am only going to go back as far as the 1970’s but let’s see what this team has accomplished so far by seeing what other Carolina teams have achieved a record of 26-2, or close to it, missing it by one win at most, at some point during a season. These numbers are off the top of my head but I am sure that they are pretty much on target:

1. 1976–The Tar Heels, who featured four future NBA’ers and Olympians, were 25-2 and number two in the nation before losing in the finals of the ACC tourney and having Phil Ford get injured, finishing 25-4. They weren’t going to beat Indiana that year anyway, who went 32-0.

2. 1982–UNC wins it all and finishes 32-2. This is Carolina’s second best record ever, just short of the 1957 team’s record, shared with 1976 Indiana, of 32-0, for a champion. This team had only one loss, at UVa when it had its starters intact, also losing at home to Wake, 55-49 without Perkins who had influenza(the real kind that makes you go to the hospital), and thus they came very close to going 33-1. I won’t say that they came close to going undefeated, however, because they got pasted by double digits in Charlottesville in a game that they were never really in.

3. 1984–UNC finished up 28-3, after going 14-0 in conference. Dean hints that he brought starting point guard Kenny Smith back as a starter, which may have been a mistake, given how well back-up Steve Hale was playing(hmm). Indiana and Dan Dakich ruined my freshman year during the round of 16.

4. 1987–UNC finished 32-4, after going 14-0 in conference, losing to NC State in the ACC tourney finals and losing to Syracuse in the round of 8. This team had Kenny Smith, J.R. Reid and Scott Williams, all of whom had decent pro careers, especially Kenny Smith, as well as highly recruited Dave Popson, Joe Wolf and Jeff Lebo. The ACC was a little down this year and Carolina surprised somewhat, given that they had lost the number one draft pick, Brad Daugherty from the year before.

5. 1993–UNC finished 34-4, after going 14-2 in conference. This team lost to Michigan in December by one point at the buzzer and then to Duke and Wake in the first go round in conference. They ended up losing a heartbreaker in the conference tourney final to GIT, after playing without Derrick Phelps, in a game in which Donald Williams bonked three after three after three, something he wouldn’t do again until the next year. My recollection is that this team was 25-3 at this point in the season.

6. 1998–UNC finished 34-4, losing to State, Maryland, Duke and Utah in the semi’s. Carolina beat Duke in the finals of the tourney, after losing the Senior game at Duke the week before in a total collapse. My recollection is that this team was 26-2 at this point in the season. This team was somewhat of a mystery team, with the losses to Duke and Utah being somewhat inexplicable; they also came very close to going out in the Second Round against Charlotte in the NCAA tourney.

7. 2005–UNC finished 33-4, losing to Santa Clara in its first game, which I believe Quentin Thomas started, since Ray Felton had been suspended for one game for playing in an unauthorized summer game, and then lost to Duke and Wake in the first go round in conference play and then to GIT in the semi’s of the tourney. Carolina was 25-3 at this point in the season. Discounting the game that Felton missed, this team came reasonably close to winning all the rest of its games,losing heartbreakers to Duke and GIT and a foul-marred game at Wake Forest. The 2005 team won the title by beating one of the best second place finishers in recent memory, the 37-1 Illinois Illini. Had Illinois won, it would have been a new record for most victories by a champion.

So, looking back, Carolina teams achieved a record of 26-2 in the 1982, 1984, 1987, 1998 and 2008 seasons. Smith did it three times, Gutheridge once and Roy Williams has now achieved it with the ‘Heels and at least once with the Kansas Jayhawks, in 1997, who only lost twice the entire season.

Looking at how those teams did, we see a national championship in 1982, Sweet Sixteen in 1984, Final Eight in 1987, and a Final Four in 1998. Roy’s 1997 Jayhawks had the misfortune that Dean had so many years, in that they played Arizona, the eventual title winner, in the round of 16 and lost a heartbreaker to the Wildcats, who went on to defeat Carolina and Kentucky in the Final Four. Judging by history, Carolina should expect to at least get to the Final Eight and probably to the Final Four, although after that (and of course, really these are just probabilities) there are no guarantees.


30 Responses to Tar Heels Hit The 26-2 Mark

  1. […] him the favorite for player of the year honors. He deserves it in my completely biased opinion. The 26 and 2 Heels have a week off before traveling to Boston on Saturday. Hopefully Tywon and Deon can get healthy […]

  2. 52BigGameJames says:

    excellent post william–thanks for including that THF.

    my ten cents: I know william & I will disagree on this, but I see many similarities between this and the 05 version. both have a tendency (DESPITE THE GREAT RECORD) to underachieve (esp on defense) at times. Both teams featured strong center, and pg play–arguably best in the nation at both spots—for both teams. witness this years loss to Duke, despite it being one of their best outings, and one of our worst. We still have some kinks to work out, but I believe we’ll solve a couple of those riddles by tourney-time, and Ty’s injury has forced some individual and collective development. as has been noted before on here, next year would seem to be a more apropo comparison with the 05 team, with another year of development. There’s your McCants/Marvin counter william.

    Having said that, by no means am I conceding our chances this year, but if we do take it all, then Tyler’s departure becomes a possibility, as would Wayne’s in the unlikely event he has a “Corey Brewer” type run in the NCAA’s.

  3. C. Michael says:

    One other comparison/coincidence: the 2005 seniors lost their first game as a Tar Heel (November 2001 to Hampton) as did the 2008 senior (2004 to Santa Clara).

  4. Tar Heel alum and fan says:

    Very nice research and it really shows how consistently excellent the UNC program has been through the years. It’s all about expectations – one of my co-workers is a South Carolina fan and he would be thrilled to see his team even get into the NCAA tournament. For Tar Heels fan that is routine; our expectation is a national title every year, which causes some of the unfair criticism at times.

  5. Tar Heel Fan says:

    This is true and at the risk of sounding arrogant, I was amused at Tennessee and Bruce Pearl Saturday night as they kept talking about winning the game and BEING THE #1 TEAM IN THE COUNTRY! For most of us we are rather ho-hum about being #1 in a poll and look towards winning the NCAA title as the more important goal.

    Then again if this were football I think this would be reversed.

  6. C. Michael says:

    I agree, though I have to admit, Pearl leads my list of, “Coaches I root for when not playing UNC.”

    Dino Gaudio is quickly rising on that list. So impressed with him.

  7. rbl says:

    I agree with C. William about Gaudio and with THF on Bruce Pearl.

    Listening to Woody and the gang on XM Radio last night, I learned that Psycho T surpassed Larry Miller on the Carolina all time rebounding list. I was in school when Miller played, and there are some similiarities between the two. Miller could score explosively like no player I’ve ever seen.

    Miller could also flex his muscles. In the 1968 game against State, Eddie Biedenbach, for whom I must say I have a lot of respect, was pushing off Gerald Tuttle all night. In one play Biedenbach collided with Tuttle, and Miller, having seen enough of that kind of play, scooped Biedenbach up off the floor like a sack of potatoes and shook him. Can you imagine what ESPN would do with that today, although it was entirely justified, given the way State was playing?

    Is there anybody out there who remembers Miller?

  8. william says:

    You make a good point, THF.

    I see that Carolina is number two in one poll and three in the other and actually got some first place votes. It is difficult to see why Tennessee should be above UNC except for UNC having lost more recently. We have two common opponents. Both teams edged OSU, but Carolina did it on the road without Lawson. Both played at Kentucky–UNC won and Tennessee lost. Apart from that, both teams have lost to one top ten team and one top 50’ish team and there is no doubt that the ACC is the better conference.

    Nevertheless, I don’t think any of us Heel fans particularly care where we are ranked as long as it is in the top four. Honestly, if the Heels had to fall to a second seed but were to be placed in the same region as Tennessee as number one, I find this far preferable to being a number one with a UCLA or Kansas or Georgetown in our region as number two seed.

    It is interesting to see that Pomeroy has Tennessee at number 14, which seems too low to me, but this is the weakest SEC in years.

  9. william says:

    Actually, we had three common opponents, with both Tennessee and UNC beating Asheville by about the same amount.

  10. 52BigGameJames says:

    rbl–good to see another old-timer on here to be a witness to the regal lineage that is Carolina basketball. That 68 team was when I first started following UNC hoops. I was 10 at the time. Miller tends to get forgotten in the discussions these days, but he was consensus 1st team AA, and was another “legendary” ACC player, in the same vein as MJ and DT…and I suppose we now include Tyler too. That he rode into CH on a motorcycle tells you a lot about him. Even with Coach Smith, Larry pretty much set his own table. What a sweet freakin jumper the guy had. The Miller/Grubar/Scott years are “must-see tv” for the younger UNC fans for sure.

    quick Miller story–he used to frequent an (un-named) Raleigh watering hole. Friend of mine was a regular there, and told me about an incident in which Miller was holding court and recounting one of UNC’s NCAA Tournament games that Miller was a part of. One of the patrons (think Cliffy of Cheers) interrupted Larry on several occasions during the telling of this anecdote to “correct him”. Miller finally has enough, and stands his 6’7″ frame up, and puts his oversized hand on the guys head, and turns him 180 degrees on his barstool back towards the bar, sits down and finishes his story. This friend of mine was a State fan, but he was instantly converted into a huge Larry Miller fan.

  11. william says:

    He was pretty good, but let’s talk about the Kangaroo Kid….

  12. william says:

    And by the way, the UNC women are now 26-2 as well, so way to go gals….

  13. 52BigGameJames says:

    seeing as how Miller is #6 (right behind Scott) and Billy C is #13 on the all-time scoring list I don’t see why I need to interrupt the discussion.

  14. Tar Heel Fan says:

    Interesting stat about Billy C.

    Most double-doubles(pts and rebs)

    Career: 60
    Season: 22
    Consecutive: 40

  15. 52BigGameJames says:

    not dissing anyone here, but Miller takes a back seat to NO ONE in UNC hoops lore. Billy C was a GREAT player no question, albeit on mostly mediocre teams. Miller stood out among other premier team-mates, on mostly elite teams.

  16. william says:

    Billy is the second greatest Carolina player of all time overall, when considering both college and pro’s. He was MVP in the ABA and All Pro several times in the NBA and played on one of the three greatest teams of all time, the 1967 76’ers. He was selected as one of the 50 greatest players of all time in the NBA. He could very well also be the most successful Carolina coach of all time as well, having retired with a World Championship and the all time lead in coaching winning percentage in the NBA.

    Cunningham probably does not get his due for two reasons. Carolina was not great during his tenure as a 6’5″ center, although he may have saved Dean Smith’s job, and two, he was a McGuire recruit, although obviously he played for Dean Smith.

    Miller was important because he was Dean Smith’s first big recruiting win and a key part of Smith’s three year in a row Eastern Regional champions. He was an excellent college player, but comparing him to Billy Cunningham is like comparing Jimmy Black (one of my all time fav’s) to Kenny Smith, but even less fair. Cunningham was a great college player, a great pro in both leagues and a great coach. Whatever even happened to Larry Miller?

  17. 52BigGameJames says:

    let’s keep the discussion confined to college career–and on that basis, I welcome rbl’s viewpoint since he was of age to critique both. You are spot on about C in all respects except in your analogy to JB–yer on crack in that respect–so far I’ve heard “pretty good, and excellent” in describing Miller’s college career. While DT once scored 73 in a pro game, using your logic, one could make the case he was a wash-out overall. Apples to college apples, Miller was every bit the equal, if not greater player, but with an acknowledged different skill-set. While I didn’t see Cunningham play in college, the few clips I’ve seen don’t exactly inspire confidence in the opponents defensive prowess.

  18. Tar Heel Fan says:

    Well since both of these guys played a decade before I was born I have zero reference on which to draw…so have at it guys!

    BTW, Silent Sam, another commenter here was at UNC in the late 60s.

  19. 52BigGameJames says:

    I would like to hear what both Silent Sam and rbl have to say on this subject. I just don’t see the need to tear down, or marginalize one players rep in order to give what you feel is overdue credit to another is all. I don’t have a problem using the same adjective for both players: “GREAT”, or if you prefer “Legendary”, when discussing their UNC careers.

  20. rbl says:

    I spent six years at Carolina, a period that covered, Larry Brown, Billy Cunningham, Bob Lewis, Larry Miller, Rusty Clark, and Charlie Scott. BC never had much of a SUPPORTING CAST, ALTHOUGH HE DID HAVE Larry Brown AT ONE END AND LEWIS ON THE OTHER. (Ignore the caps.) BC was a great rebounder, had little support, and played during the era when Carolina was recovering from probation. Miller had much better players with him and seems to have been more of a leader, although we shouldn’t forget BC’s ripping down the effigy of Dean Smith. Bob Lewis, Smith’s first big recruit, was a streaky shooter, but not as good as Miller in my judgment.

    If I had to choose one player from my era, it would be Charlie Scott. He was explosively quick and a synamite scorer, as witnessed by his 40 points against Duke in the 1969 ACC final and the winning jumper against Davidson in the Eastern Regional finals a couple of weeks later.

    BC, LM, Bob Lewis, and Charlie Scott could all play today. Bill Bunting (1969) was the first great defender schoooled by Smith. I attended the game against Gardner-Webb two years ago, Psycho T’s first game, and thought he physically resembled BB a bit.

    Lewis and Miller were Carolina’s second set of L & M twins. The frist duo was Doug Moe and York Larese, both of whom I used to listen to on radio. There was no ESPN in those days.

    I mentioned Larry Brown earlier. He was involved in the infamous melee in Durham in 1961, along with Art Heyman of the Dukies. Duke fans swear to this day that Frank McGuire kicked Heyman while the latter was on the floor. If he did, I say it was well deserved. Brown went on to become a highly successful coach, and Heyman manages a bar in NYC. So much for a Duke degree. I wondered if he ever violated the honor code in a dance class, as did poor Greg Newton and Ricky Price. So much for the rigorous Duke academic curriculum.

    I’ll be happy to address any other history questions from Gen X.

  21. 52BigGameJames says:

    you might be interested to know that I have an autographed copy of Scott hitting that winning J against Davidson, by none other than the great Left-Hander himself.

    That era featured some prolific scorers: Austin Carr, Calvin Murphy, P-Pete, and this is gonna hurt, Rick Mount.

  22. william says:

    Perhaps a better comparison is to Mike O’koren, another excellent player, who like Miller seems to have been largely forgotten, although O’koren did a little better in the pro’s, lasting 7 years or so. I was not comparing Kenny Smith/Jimmy Black to Miller in terms of relative skill level but merely in terms of Miller’s distance in his skill set from Cunningham.

    Duke has a similar situation with J.J. Redick, where kids in the future are going to look back and wonder how someone who had so little success in the NBA could possibly have been a better player at Duke than say Chris Paul. It was at least debatable then–It’s not now.

    Or Brendan Haywood versus Eric Montross, which is a similar situation for us Tar Heels.

  23. 52BigGameJames says:

    sorry to beat a near-dead horse, & I usually agree with you and enjoy your takes, but the distinction here is “1st team consensus AA”. Yes, I agree that O’Koren (who twice made AA) is often overlooked, but in keeping with rbl’s original take on Miller “Miller could score explosively like no player I’ve ever seen”, I would concur with that assessment, and that in itself is a pretty distinguishing characteristic. Only other UNC players who come to mind in that regard might be Scott & Jamison, but not to the same degree as Miller. I think it’s obvious you and I have a clear disagreement concerning including the career beyond college. For future reference, when I’m discussing a players career, it is his college career only, unless otherwise noted. Tom Brady’s college career was insignificant compared to his run with the Pats. What did Rick Mount do in the pro’s? Scottie Pippin at Central Arkansas? It has been and will always be that college and pro careers are separate entities. There’s no better examples than DT & MJ–the former the greatest ACC player in history, the latter the greatest NBA player, but one shouldn’t negate the other imo. BC deserves credit for excelling at 3 levels, but that doesn’t mean he was a better college player than Miller, and I’m not prepared to concede that BC’s “college skill-set” was better than Miller’s. If so, how do you explain the gap on the all-time scoring list?


  24. william says:

    I agree with the distinction between college and pros, except when you are talking about contemporaries. Miller and Cunningham were only four years apart and played in the pros at the same time. If Lawson makes the pros, then that will go a long way towards answering who is better between him and Felton. Right now Felton seems better to me as a college player. Felton has done pretty well, but I am disappointed that Paul and the guy at Utah are out-doing him, albeit on better teams. If Lawson does also, that makes me think that it is not simply do to different team style issues and the like.

    I don’t mean to say that this is the end all of the discussion, just that it is a strong point. Some players have a college-oriented game, like Redick and maybe Montross, but it is going to be hard to convince many people now that Redick (or Ray Felton, for that matter) actually was better than Chris Paul back in 2005. Some players, like Jordan, actually grow quite a bit during or even after college.

    This discussion works both ways, too. I hear over and over that David Thompson was a better college player than Michael Jordan. Maybe, maybe not. I give Thompson the edge for helping end the UCLA dynasty, but it is close. Thompson’s senior year was not all that great compared to his first two in terms of what his team accomplished. I saw Michael Jordan live, in person, when I went to UNC and that Michael Jordan was exactly the same player everyone else saw play for the Chicago Bulls, except he didn’t have to shoot quite as much, but people now just assume Thompson was better in college, because he was a great “college” player and Jordan was a great “pro”. Actually, they may have been pretty much equal on both levels.

    One thing about Miller, that you point out, is that he was almost a co-coach in terms of influence, something that no other Carolina player would ever have again under Smith. Smith put up with things from Miller, for whatever reason, that would never be put up with after 1968. An example of this is that basically Miller and Scott refused to run the stall offense anymore against UCLA in the second half of the national title game and Smith relented and the team got torched, although they didn’t deserve to win anyway, because UCLA was clearly better. Just imagine, Derrick Phelps telling Smith that he didn’t agree with Smith’s floor strategy.

  25. 52BigGameJames says:

    last word–it most certainly would have been great to see both in a UNC uni at the same time–that would be one helluva front court. Didn’t Reid try the renegade route with Dean, lol?

  26. william says:

    My understanding is that the ’68 runner-up team actually balked at stalling in the 2nd Half and Dean let them play straight up in the second half and they ended up losing by 23, but without any repercussions to the players. I think this was recounted in one of Art Chansky’s books. J.R. Reid probably got a one-way ticket to the NBA draft for whatever he did.

    J.R. probably had the most unfortunate career trajectory of any Carolina player that I can remember as he seemed to get worse the longer he stayed at Carolina and he was only there 3 years. He did have a famous haircut though.

  27. william says:

    One last thing, is that strangely enough I have never seen the younger one, Miller play, so maybe he was Carolina’s version of Redick. I have seen the older Billy Cunningham play in person in the pro’s because he played in Charlotte and along with Charlie Scott formed a sandwich of very successful pro players around Miller, so maybe Miller has suffered by comparison in Carolina lore because people assume he must not have been that good since his teammate Scott was the one who went on to be famous. I am all for being re-educated and I will try to learn more about Larry. Maybe he got injured or maybe he was just a step too slow for the pro’s but I have never heard much about that. I know he was in the ABA for a while and had some success, but didn’t last more than a couple of years.

    At the same time, Carolina people need to realize that Billy C was the third UNC player in the top 50 of all time, not Vince Carter or Sam Perkins or Phil For or Charlie Scott and he was a helluva coach too.

  28. 52BigGameJames says:

    for one as savvy as yourself, you really should know about this guy-it is absolutely no exaggeration to say he was one of the all-time greats at UNC…


    and he was much more than Reddick

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