The Daily Tar Heel

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Wednesday December 7th

Analysis: How UNC men's basketball's previous preseason No. 1 teams stack up to one another

Hubert Davis, head coach of Carolina Basketball, guides his team through the first round of the NCAA tournament against Marquette on Thursday, March 17, 2022, in Fort Worth, Texas. UNC won 95-63.
Buy Photos Hubert Davis, head coach of Carolina Basketball, guides his team through the first round of the NCAA tournament against Marquette on Thursday, March 17, 2022, in Fort Worth, Texas. UNC won 95-63.

On Oct. 17, AP News released the preseason top 25 rankings for men's college basketball. North Carolina, the 2022 national runner-up, tops the list as preseason No. 1 for the tenth time in school history, the most of any program.

Here is a look back at the previous Tar Heel teams that came into the season on top and where they ended up by the spring.

Dean Smith era

The Tar Heels recorded their first preseason No. 1 ranking in the 1977-1978 season while under the direction of head coach Dean Smith. The team struggled to live up to the preseason hype, going 23-6 in the regular season and ending at No. 16. 

North Carolina finished the regular season on a high note with a home win over Duke but failed to find success in the postseason, losing to San Francisco in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

Over the course of the 1980s, North Carolina received three preseason No. 1 rankings.

The first of these came in 1981, when members of the team posed alongside Coach Smith for the iconic Sports Illustrated cover that this year’s team recreated.

With the addition of first-year guard Michael Jordan, the Tar Heels thrived, going 24-2 in the regular season, and eventually became the first preseason No. 1 UNC team to win the national championship when the Tar Heels recorded a slim 63-62 win over Georgetown.

Though not ranked first in the season coming off Dean Smith’s first national championship title, the next No. 1 preseason ranking quickly followed in the 1983-1984 season. With Jordan still on the roster, the Tar Heels went 26-1 in the regular season and fell from the No. 1 position only once. Despite the successful regular season, UNC lost in the second round of the NCAA Tournament to Indiana.

North Carolina continued to gain recognition in the 1980s, earning another No. 1 ranking in the 1986-1987 preseason. The team had a promising 26-2 regular season record and made it to the Elite Eight before losing to Syracuse.

Smith had one more preseason No. 1 as UNC basketball’s head coach in the 1993-1994 season. Despite a less-than-perfect 24-6 regular season record, the Tar Heels remained in the top position at season’s end before losing to Boston College in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

Roy Williams era

Before the 2007-2008 season, Roy Williams’ fifth as North Carolina's head coach, the Tar Heels once again became the preseason No. 1. The team fell out of the No. 1 position for six consecutive weeks in the new year, but a 29-2 regular season record allowed the Tar Heels to return to the top before the season was over. UNC ended up reaching the Final Four for the second time in the Williams era, where it lost to Kansas.

The final result didn’t deter the media from giving the team the No. 1 preseason position again in the following season. A 27-3 record for the 2008-2009 team resulted in them finishing the regular season at No. 2, and North Carolina went on to win the national championship over Michigan State.

The 2011-2012 Tar Heels had big shoes to fill when they were the next to receive the No. 1 preseason ranking. The team ended with four regular season losses and finished the regular season at No. 4 before losing in the Elite Eight to Kansas.

North Carolina had one of their most memorably disappointing ends to a season in the 2015-2016 season, during which they were once again the preseason No. 1. UNC went 25-6 in the regular season to end at No. 3. A deep postseason performance landed the Tar Heels in the national championship game, where they lost to Villanova on a Kris Jenkins buzzer-beater. The team went on to win the National Championship over Gonzaga the following season.

The 2016-17 redemption season seems to be the blueprint for this year's team, which returns four of its five starters from last season's national championship loss. Unlike the 2016-17 season team that debuted at No. 6, this season’s Tar Heels are the preseason No. 1. 

Being the preseason No. 1 has had mixed results for North Carolina in the past, but this year, UNC will look to have a season that lives up to the Tar Heels' last redemption run.

@lindseyashe_

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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