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Heels Poor Play Imperils Tourney Bid

UNC's long term success is really remarkable, but this season may be an exception

Virginia Cavaliers guard Malcolm Brogdon (15) grabs the ball in front of North Carolina Tar Heels forward Brice Johnson (11) in the second half at John Paul Jones Arena.
Virginia Cavaliers guard Malcolm Brogdon (15) grabs the ball in front of North Carolina Tar Heels forward Brice Johnson (11) in the second half at John Paul Jones Arena.
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Conventional wisdom has it that North Carolina will, despite a weak start and a significantly flawed roster, still rally to make the NCAA tournament. Embracing the easy conclusion is part of what makes conventional wisdom so persuasive.

But we should be cautious in jumping to conclusions. This is true in general, and true with regard to even one of the most accomplished and consistently successful men's programs in college athletics. The 2014 Tar Heels, as has been well-chronicled, labor under a number of handicaps that aren't apt to be resolved anytime soon, the cascade effect of unexpected personnel losses leading to exposure of other weaknesses.

The cumulative impact of these factors is reflected in a won-lost record that's already anomalous for UNC and apt to venture into unpleasantly unfamiliar territory.

Through five ACC contests and 18 overall, the Heels are 11-7, 1-4 in the ACC. This is not promising. In fact, despite surprising early victories over Louisville, Michigan State, and Kentucky - all still ranked - Roy Williams' club would need to win the remainder of its games to avoid finishing in the bottom half of all North Carolina teams since the ACC was founded.

More likely, with 13 regular-season games remaining, and at least one outing in the ACC Tournament, this group with finish with double-digit losses. Among the most dangerous contests still to come: at Florida State, a visit from Pitt, home-and-home with Duke, home-and-home with Notre Dame, and home-and-home with N.C. State.

Also worth noting - of 17 Final Four entrants from Chapel Hill, one advanced that far with 10 or more losses. That was the 2000 squad, the last of three under Bill Guthridge, which finished 22-14.

If this year's team drops three more games, it would mark the fourth time in Williams' 11 seasons at his alma mater that one of his units suffered 10 or more defeats. It would also be just the 15th time UNC sank that low in 61 ACC seasons.

The Heels finished conference play with more than four losses just 22 times in the league's previous 60 years.

North Carolina Teams Since Founding Of ACC In 1954, By Wins In Season
(Underlined Indicates Final Four, Bold Indicates NCAA Title, Asterisk Losing Record Overall)
Losses/Year No. Seasons In Which Indicated Number Of Losses Occurred
Six Or Fewer 27 1956, 1957, 1959, 1960, 1961, 1963, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1971, 1972,1974, 1976, 1977, 1979, 1982, 1984, 1986, 1987, 1991, 1993, 1995, 1998, 2005, 2008, 2009, 2012
Seven 6 1958, 1988, 1994, 1997, 2001, 2007
Eight 9 1973, 1975, 1978, 1980, 1981, 1983, 1989, 2006, 2011
Nine 4 1962*, 1965, 1970, 1985
Ten 3 1954, 1992, 1999
Eleven 5 1955*, 1966, 1996, 2004, 2013
Twelve 1 1964
Thirteen 1 1990
Fourteen 1 2000
Sixteen 1 2003
Seventeen 1 2010
Twenty 1 2002*