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The Daily Tar Heel

Men's basketball 2018-19 season in review: ACC title highlights another strong season

Coby White Louisville ACC
First-year guard Coby White (2) pushes pass defenders for a layup against Louisville in the quarterfinals of the ACC tournament on Thursday, March 14, 2019 at the Spectrum Center in Charlotte, N.C. UNC defeated Louisville 83-70 to advance to the semifinals.

Despite a less-than-ideal finish – an upset loss to Auburn in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament – there were still plenty of bright spots for the North Carolina men's basketball team in 2018-19.

The Tar Heels went 29-7 overall and posted a 16-2 mark in conference play, enough to split a regular season ACC title with eventual national champion Virginia. It was UNC's 32nd time capturing at least a share of the ACC regular season title and the ninth in head coach Roy Williams' 16 seasons.

After going 11-3 in a tough non-conference slate – including a Dec. 15 win against Gonzaga – the Tar Heels soon found themselves at a crossroads, suffering an 62-83 thrashing at the hands of Louisville in their third ACC game. Rather than roll over, the team responded by ripping off seven straight wins and going 16-2 to finish the regular season, tying the Cavaliers atop the ACC.

North Carolina also went 2-1 against a much-hyped Duke team in 2018-19. The 73-74 loss to the Blue Devils came in the semifinals of the ACC Tournament in Charlotte, N.C., denying the Tar Heels a third win against their rival and a shot at a postseason conference title.

Still, North Carolina earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament for the 17th time in school history, an NCAA record. But after handling Iona and Washington in the first two rounds, UNC was outshot and outplayed in the Sweet 16 against Auburn, bringing the Tar Heels' season to an end with an 80-97 loss. The Tigers advanced all the way to the Final Four in Minneapolis, Minn. before falling to Virginia.

Roy Williams' squad never would have gotten that far without the help of a high-scoring Tar Heel triumvirate: graduate wing Cameron Johnson, who led the team with 16.9 points per game; Coby White, who posted 16.1 points per game in his first and last season in Chapel Hill; and senior forward Luke Maye, who was third on the team in points (14.9) and first in rebounds (10.5).

Those three accounted for 55.8 percent of North Carolina's points in 2018-19, and took turns carrying the scoring burden in different games. Rounding out the starting five were senior guard Kenny Williams and sophomore forward Garrison Brooks, while first-year Nassir Little was the Tar Heels' most valuable player off the bench. 

A much-hyped recruit coming in to Chapel Hill, Little averaged 9.8 points and 4.6 rebounds before declaring for the NBA draft alongside White.

Thus, North Carolina lost its five leading scorers from 2018-19: Johnson, Maye and Williams, who all graduated, and the two rookie standouts. That void will have to be filled by returners Brandon Robinson, Leaky Black and Brooks, among others, along with incoming players like Cole Anthony and Armando Bacot.

The Auburn loss doesn't diminish UNC's accomplishments last season, nor does it change the fact that Roy Williams had created a veritable championship blend, the right mix of young talent and veteran experience needed to win a title. The ball didn't bounce North Carolina's way, but all the pieces were there. 

Only time will tell if this year's Tar Heels can replicate the considerable success of the team that came before them.


@DTHSports |

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