For the final time this season, I am writing to you about this 2019-20 Tar Heel basketball season. Like many, this is a season that I can not wait to get behind me and this program.
For the first time in his 32 year head coaching, Roy Williams finished a season with a losing record, an accomplishment that everyone should stop to admire for a second. After you do that, you’ll realize that this season was a major anomaly. The Tar Heels 14 wins in the season are the fewest in a season since the dismal 2001-02 season. The team averaged 72.2 points per game, the fewest since 2002-03, Matt Doherty’s final season with the program and the first time the Heels have averaged less than 80 points per game since the 2014-15 season. This was also the first time since 2001-02 that the Tar Heels averaged less points per game than they scored, as they allowed 72.8 points per game to opponents this season. The 42.0% field goal percentage is the lowest for a Tar Heel team since 1959-60 and the 30.4% mark from deep is the worst since the three point shot originated in college basketball. The Tar Heels 68.2% shooting from the charity stripe Is the worst mark by a Tar Heel team since 2013-14 and the 14.3 assist per game, the lowest in program history since they began keeping in-depth assists statistics in 1982-83.
This amounts to what was a stunning below .500 season, one that had so many moments that could have drastically changed the outcome of this season. The Tar Heels lost six games by one possession, including four games in the final possession of the game. Moments like the collapse against Clemson to hand the Tigers their first ever win in Chapel Hill and the double overtime loss to Virginia Tech in a game where Garrison Brooks simply dominated were big blows for a team that never responded to the challenge issued by Roy Williams early in the season. However, nothing stung as bad as the loss in the Smith Center to the rival Duke Blue Devils where you let a 13-point lead disappear in the final four minutes of regulation and saw everything that could go wrong go wrong in the 98-96 overtime loss.
Injuries played a huge role in this team’s misfortune. Combined, Tar Heel players missed nearly 100 games combined due to injury, something that Tar Heel Illustarted’s Andrew Jones, who has been covering the team for many years, quoted as being unreal. Cole Anthony’s knee injury may have been the biggest blow, especially considering his start to the season prior to suffering the injury somewhere ahead of the trip to the Bahamas. The point guard, who was the highest rated recruit the Tar Heels had landed since Harrison Barnes, was never really fully healthy, leading to what many saw as a disappointing freshman season, despite leading the conference in scoring.
While all of this may make it seem like this is a season not worth looking back on, some things happened along the way that will still be remembered in Carolina lore. The biggest thing is the emergence of Brooks, who went from a role player a year ago to the heart and soul of a team that was desperately looking for any sort of leadership. Brooks was a second team All-ACC member, but his performance likely would have landed him first team honors had the team’s record been better and his return next season will give the Tar Heels a phenomenal senior leader on the inside.
One player who will not return, but gave us some lasting memories was Brandon Robinson. Whether it was his senior night take over against Wake Forest to close his career down with a victory or his return to the rivalry game against Duke in Durham after being declared out at halftime. The best moment, though, has to be his game against NC State in Raleigh, where he was knocked out the game multiple times due to injury, but fought through to finish the game with 11 points while honoring his childhood hero Kobe Bryant who had passed away just a few days prior.
Ultimately, when we look back on this season, it should be a humbling experience for Tar Heels. This was the first losing season for the Tar Heels in 18 years and just the eighth one in program history. That sentence alone should show you how lucky you are if you are a Tar Heel fan. With a stacked recruiting class coming in and the potential for many key players to return, these struggles look to be temporary. As Dean Smith once said, though, sometimes these types of seasons are a good learning moment for a program and fanbase that has enjoyed so much success.