Was That The Worst Season in North Carolina History?
Mercifully, this thing’s over.
Before we get into this, from an on-court perspective, the 2014-15 Tar Heels were decisively not the worst team in North Carolina history. Sure, the team had its fair share of frustrating losses (oh hey, February, what’s good?), but at the end of the day, it wasn’t like Larry Drew II started at point guard. North Carolina competed with the top teams in the country, pulled out some memorable wins, and grew collectively together.
But, that being said, think about it for a second. Think about everything that happened this season. Think about the NCAA’s cloud of uncertainty looming over the team. Think about Roy Williams breaking down at ACC Media Day in October. Think about Marcus Paige dealing with plantar fasciitis for almost the entire season, only to show us what he’s fully capable of when it was just too late. Think about Theo Pinson’s broken foot, Joel Berry II’s injured foot, Kennedy Meeks’ recurring illness. Think about the blown leads. Think about losing to N.C. State at home. Think about Duke winning a National Championship. And worse than everything on that list by miles, think about the passing of Coach Dean Smith.
It’s not a stretch to call 2014-15 the hardest season to ever be a North Carolina fan. And it’s okay to admit that.
From 2004-2009, North Carolina basketball saw a renaissance under Roy Williams. In a half decade span, the Tar Heels hung two National Championship banners, and fans enjoyed talent such as Tyler Hansbrough, Sean May, Ty Lawson, Raymond Felton, Wayne Ellington,
Rashad McCants, Danny Green and even more future NBA players. These teams were fun to watch, but more importantly, they were successful. While some may say Billy Donovan’s Florida teams were better, I would argue that North Carolina was the best basketball school for the second half of that decade.
Life comes at you fast.
We endured some awful days this season, and almost none of them had anything to do with the on-court product. The release of the Wainstein Report shook North Carolina to the core, and it’s going to be a long time before the public perception of the university sways back to a positive light. Even that, however, pales in comparison to the heartbreak we all felt upon the passing of Coach Smith. It’s still tough to cope with where Smith was in the final years of his magnificent life, and February 8, 2015 will forever be known as the day we lost our priceless gem.
On the court, the Tar Heels struggled through February. They blew a halftime lead against Virginia. They were merely bystanders in a Pittsburgh three-point contest. They lost an absolute heartbreaker to Duke in Cameron Indoor. And, for the first time ever, Roy Williams lost to N.C. State in the Dean Smith Center.
A somber February was followed by an inspiring March, which saw North Carolina beat Louisville and Virginia in back-to-back days before finally running out of gas against Notre Dame in the ACC Tournament final. The Heels then beat Harvard and Arkansas to make it to their first Sweet 16 since 2012, where they fell to a red-hot Wisconsin team. That same Wisconsin team disposed of Kentucky in the Final Four, and allowed Duke to win its fifth National Championship.
Read back through those last three paragraphs and tell me if there has ever been a more emotionally draining season in North Carolina basketball history.
It hurt. It’s okay to admit that. This season hurt, but there’s still hope.
Multiple way-too-early preseason polls have North Carolina as a Top-5 team going into 2015-16, and with good reason. Justin Jackson and Brice Johnson have announced that they will return to the Tar Heels, and it’s a pretty safe bet that they’ll be joined by the rest of this year’s team. That’s encouraging, especially considering the steps this team, Jackson, Johnson and Joel Berry II in particular, took in March. Carolina may land one more star recruit, but even if it doesn’t, the Tar Heels will still have one of the best blends of experience and talent in the nation.
Of course, the NCAA cloud of uncertainty still hangs over Chapel Hill, and if there’s one thing for sure about NCAA penalties, it’s nothing’s for sure. North Carolina could get away with minimal damage, or we could see 2016 title hopes dashed away with a postseason ban.
We don’t know what the NCAA will do, or when it will do it, so for now, we can at least pretend happy days are ahead. After all, they couldn’t possibly be as bad as they were this season. Right?