It's not often that North Carolina basketball finds itself trapped in the ACC basement. But that's exactly the situation the Tar Heels (10-16, 3-12 ACC) are in as the 2019-20 year winds to a close.
A 77-76 loss to Notre Dame on Monday night was another nail in a coffin full of them for UNC this season, a game in which the Irish erased a 15-point deficit in the second half and won on a last-second 3-pointer by Nate Laszewski. Roy Williams' team is in sole possession of last place in the conference, worse than the likes of Wake Forest (4-11) and Miami (5-10).
With not much to play for besides pride — barring a miracle run in the ACC Tournament — the only question left for North Carolina fans is this: just how bad has this season been, really? How to reconcile a disheartening, Murphy's Law-testing campaign with decades of near-uninterrupted hoops excellence?
The first thing to know is that this year is by far the worst of Roy Williams' UNC tenure. You have to go back to 2009-10 to find a season that even approaches this one: the Tar Heels, then one year removed from an NCAA title, went 20-17 and lost in the NIT final.
But that campaign never sunk to the depths of this one. 2009-10 saw North Carolina drop four straight games exactly once — that's already happened three different times in 2019-20. A six-game ACC losing streak earlier this year broke a program record, and the loss to Notre Dame was part of another skid that, if it continues against (gulp) Louisville on Saturday, would make seven straight conference defeats.
All that is to say: this year is a virtual lock to become the first losing season for the Tar Heels under Williams. Let's (generously) assume that to end the regular season, UNC falls to Louisville and Duke but knocks off Syracuse, N.C. State and Wake Forest. In that case, the Tar Heels would be 13-18 and would have to rip off five wins in five days in the ACC Tournament — a heretofore unaccomplished feat for any team — to even up their record, qualify for the NCAA Tournament and keep the hope of a winning season alive.
In 15 years at Kansas, too, Williams never posted one below the .500 mark. Who could have predicted that Williams' 32nd season as a head coach would be the one to end that run?
Consider the state of things from a program standpoint: per Sports Reference, the Tar Heels have finished with a losing record just ten times in 109 seasons. Under Matt Doherty, they went 8-20 in 2001-02, the worst year by winning percentage in UNC history; before that, you have to go all the way back to 1961-62, Dean Smith's 8-9 inaugural campaign, to find a season with more losses than wins.
That's two (about to be three) losing seasons in 60 years. Forgive the Tar Heels — players, coaches, fans — for not knowing how to react.