UNC Basketball: Preseason No. 1 Rankings History

    UNC basketball has been the ranked the preseason No. 1 team in the AP Top 25 more than any other college program ever. Here's the history of how the Tar Heels have done each year they've entered as No.1.

    November 3, 2015

    UNC basketball has set the preseason No. 1 ranking record.

    The North Carolina Tar Heels are once again the top dog, the early favorite, el numero uno … whichever cliché you want to throw on it. The point is UNC basketball is ranked No. 1 in the AP Preseason Top 25 Poll.

    It’s early, yes, and what value does a preseason ranking have anyway? Well, nothing really matters until 68 teams start dancing in March.

    But the simple fact that UNC is ranked No. 1 is a big deal because it’s an NCAA Men’s Basketball record. This is the ninth time the Tar Heels have sat atop the preseason poll. They were tied at eight with the UCLA Bruins for that honor before.

    Roy Williams has now been the head coach of four of those UNC basketball teams, trailing legendary coach Dean Smith by only one.

    Season tipoff is less than two weeks away, and from there it’s a long road ahead to see how the Tar Heels’ season unfolds. But what about those other eight seasons? How did those turn out?

    Let’s take a look.


    It was Smith’s 17th year coaching UNC when they were awarded the No. 1 spot in the preseason poll. North Carolina had not won a national title since 1957, and it had already lost two national finals under Smith. But in the 1977-78 season, the Tar Heels entered as No. 1 and went 23-8. What was supposed to be Smith’s first taste of glory in Chapel Hill, N.C. turned out to be a first-round exit in the NCAA Tournament against San Francisco 68-64.


    It was a roster for the ages. James Worthy and Sam Perkins were two of the best collegiate basketball players in the country, and Smith’s Tar Heels had their second preseason No. 1 ranking. UNC ended up going 32-2 and ran through James Madison, Alabama, Villanova and Houston before facing Georgetown in the national final. Some of you might remember a standout freshman named Michael Jordan hitting a pretty clutch jump shot against the Hoyas. It was Smith’s first championship, and it helped launch the program into the stratosphere.


    Two years after Smith won his first championship with UNC, he found himself with yet another squad ranked No. 1 in the preseason. This time Jordan was a household name and gaining steam. The Tar Heels finished 28-3 with Jordan as the team leader and thought they’d make another deep run into the tourney after a 77-66 win against Temple. Their season came to an end when Bob Knight’s Indiana Hoosiers knocked them out in the East Regional Semifinal.


    With Jordan now doing his thing with the Chicago Bulls, Smith had to find a new locus for his offense, and statistically speaking, that was guard Kenny “the Jet” Smith. Smith led the Tar Heels with 16.9 points per game as they finished the season 32-4. After breaking the century mark in the first two rounds of the tournament, UNC had a close call in the East Regional Semifinal with a 74-68 win against Notre Dame. North Carolina was knocked out the very next round by Syracuse, 79-75.


    Fresh off winning his second national championship with UNC, Smith’s team entered the 1993-94 season as the preseason favorite for the fifth time in school history. With future NBA stars Rasheed Wallace and Jerry Stackhouse on the roster, North Carolina seemed poised to repeat as national champs. After going 28-7 in the regular season and destroying Liberty 71-51 in the first round, the Tar Heels were upset by the No. 9-seeded Boston College Eagles, 75-72.


    After leading the Tar Heels to a national championship in 2004-05, their first title since Smith left the program, Roy Williams had officially returned the program to the limelight. In the 2007-08 season, UNC had one of the best college basketball players in the country with Tyler Hansbrough doing just about everything Williams asked him to do. North Carolina finished 36-3 and cruised to the national semifinal before being wrecked by Kansas, 84-66.


    With Hansbrough back for his senior season and dominating on both ends of the floor, North Carolina was slated to go all the way with an experienced Ty Lawson running the offense and beating defenders off the dribble. The duo combined for 37.3 points per game en route to a 34-4 record. UNC eased by Radford, LSU, Gonzaga, Oklahoma and Villanova to reach the national championship game. The Tar Heels finished off Michigan State 89-72 to capture Williams’ second championship with the program.


    With arguably the most inexperienced roster that Williams has had at North Carolina, the team’s leading scorer was sophomore forward Harrison Barnes with 17.1 points per game. UNC wound up capping off the season at 32-6, but the hope of another title would vanish. After beating Vermont, Creighton and Ohio, the Tar Heels were knocked out of the tournament by Kansas 80-67 in the Midwest Regional Final.

    Senior guard Marcus Paige is going to be the bread and butter of North Carolina’s offense during the 2015-16 season. He’s a dynamic guard who can get to the bucket, but he’ll need to settle into a floor general role in order to carry the team deep into the tournament. Let’s see if he’s up for the challenge, and if UNC basketball can add another banner to the rafters. 

    LOOK: ACC Basketball Preseason Rankings


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