Since Roy Williams returned to North Carolina in 2003, he has done a lot of winning. In fact, he has won just about more than any other coach in the country. His 52 NCAA Tournament wins, five Final Four appearances, and three National Championships lead all Division One Head Coaches during that time period.
With all of the winning Williams has amassed, he has put together some great teams. The personnel has been different, but nearly every great Roy Williams coached team has used the same play style. Let’s take a look at the ten best squads the Hall-of-Fame coach has had at UNC.
No. 10: 2015
The 2015 Tar Heels were one of the most inconsistent and unpredictable teams during the Roy Williams era; they were good enough to beat anyone in the country, but they struggled to finish games.
Their quality strength of schedule earned them a four-seed in the NCAA Tournament, where they fell in the Sweet 16 to Wisconsin. As they did often all season, Carolina faltered down the stretch against the Badgers, blowing a significant second half lead.
No. 9: 2018
The 2018 Tar Heels are the most unique team on this list, but were also one of the most fun to watch. Coming off a National Title season, we got to witness an All-American season from former walk-on Luke Maye, awesome senior campaigns from Joel Berry II and Theo Pinson, and two defeats of arch-rival Duke.
Because of unexpected early departures following the National Championship win, Williams was forced to run a small-ball lineup with Maye, a stretch four, playing center. While the lineup worked great at times, it was ultimately Carolina’s undoing. UNC ran into a much bigger and more physical Texas A&M team in the Round of 32, and had no answers, losing by 21 points.
No. 8: 2011
This was an interesting season to say the least. Williams and his staff brought in an elite recruiting class to try and erase the memory of a dismal 2010 season that ended in the NIT. This exciting class was led by No. 1 overall recruit Harrison Barnes and a pair of five-star players in Kendall Marshall and Reggie Bullock.
Things got weird when starting point guard, Larry Drew II, decided to leave the team during January. While this seemed like a significant blow at the time, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise as it opened the door for Marshall to take over the offense.
Marshall proved to be the spark the team needed, averaging 10.1 PPG and 10.1 APG per 40 minutes to lead an inconsistent Carolina team all the way to the Elite Eight where they were eliminated by Kentucky.
No. 7: 2007
This Carolina team was the foundation of the dominant 2008 and 2009 teams that would combine to make two Final Fours and win a National Championship. A sophomore Tyler Hansbrough established himself as one of the best players in the country, being named a first-team All-American.
Joining Hansbrough was arguably the best recruiting class of the Roy Williams era, led by studs Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington, Brandon Wright, and Deon Thompson. This was a great team, (finished No. 4 in the AP Poll) but, lost a little earlier than expected in the Elite Eight to Georgetown after giving up a late second half lead.
No. 6: 2008
This team brought nearly everyone back from the squad that only lost seven games the previous year, finished fourth in the AP Poll, AND, everyone who came back got better. After Tyler Hansbrough was named a first team All-American in 2007, it was hard to envision him getting even better, but he did just that. The Poplar Buff, Missouri native averaged 22.6 PPG and 10.2 RPG, in a dominant, Wooden award-winning season.
Lawson, Ellington, and Danny Green all made big jumps as well, as all three players raised their scoring averages to double figures. The 2008 Heels were consistently dominant, but eventually ran out of gas big time in the Final Four, losing to Kansas by 18 points.
The fact that a national runner up is only fifth on this list says a lot about Carolina’s dominance over the past fifteen years. The 2016 Tar Heels were one of the best and deepest teams in the country all year, led by senior duo Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson.
This team also got hot at seemingly the perfect time, storming through the ACC Tournament and the first five games of the NCAA Tournament, making the victories over formidable opponents look routine. Johnson had just put together an All-American senior campaign, Paige was playing his best basketball of the season, and the talented sophomore class of Joel Berry, Theo Pinson, and Justin Jackson were finally hitting their stride.
The run of dominance came to an end in the National Championship game against Villanova. If the two teams played a best of seven series, the Tar Heels would be the overwhelming favorite. But on April 4th, 2016, Villanova was the better team.
The finish of that game was one of the greatest in college basketball history, but from the perspective of UNC, it was nothing more than a crushing and heartbreaking way to end a phenomenal season.
No. 4: 2012
In terms of NBA talent alone, the 2012 North Carolina Tar Heels are the best team on this list. Harrison Barnes, John Henson, Reggie Bullock, and Tyler Zeller are all still enjoying successful pro careers today, while Kendall Marshall, PJ Hairston, and James Michael Mcadoo all served short stints in the league themselves.
UNC opened the year as a favorite to win the title in the eyes of many. They proved why by dominating the regular season, losing just four games and winning the ACC Regular Season Championship.
The Tar Heels seemed destined to be on an unstoppable path to the National Championship, until, they weren’t. In the Round of 32 against Creighton, Marshall suffered a broken wrist after being pushed in the back on a fast break by a Creighton defender.
Marshall would be forced to miss the rest of the postseason, and while back up Stilman White did a serviceable job in his place, Carolina was not the same. The Bob Cousy Award winner Marshall was the engine that made those Tar Heels run.
A promising season came to an end in the Elite Eight against Kansas, ending the collegiate careers of Marshall, Barnes, Zeller, and Henson.
No. 3: 2005
The 2005 Tar Heels are one of the most important teams on this list. This Carolina team helped erase the painful memories of Dean Smith’s sudden retirement and the frustrating Matt Doherty era, while making new memories of their own. This Carolina team gave Roy Williams his first National Championship, and it reminded everyone that UNC was one of, if not the best, basketball programs in the country.
The core of the 2005 team was made up of talented juniors Raymond Felton, Sean May, and Rashad McCants, along with seniors Jackie Manuel and Jawad Williams providing valuable leadership. The contributions of players like Marvin Williams and David Noel off the bench cannot be forgotten either.
UNC stormed through the regular season, losing just four games and earning a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Tar Heels also went through the big dance with relative ease, winning all but two games by double digits. The 2005 National Championship was a classic, but Carolina pulled away late thanks to dominance inside from Sean May and some huge shots by Raymond Felton.
The 2005 Tar Heels also had a plethora of NBA talent, with four players selected in the NBA Draft lottery (Williams, Felton, May, McCants).
No. 2: 2017
The 2017 Tar Heels are the best story on this list. They used the pain of of the crushing 2016 National Championship game defeat to fuel one of the best seasons in program history, adopting the team mantra of “redemption”. This goal of redemption helped them overcome a significant amount of adversity and injuries on their way to a National Championship.
The 2016-17 season was also one of the most fun in recent history. The players all had great personalities, and there were many memorable moments, such as Luke Maye’s game winner versus Kentucky, or Michael Jordan’s “The Ceiling is the Roof” half time speech during the Duke game.
The NCAA Tournament run summed up everything this team was about. The Tar Heels overcame injuries (Joel Berry’s ankle), teams with more NBA talent (Kentucky), and significant deficits (Arkansas, Oregon, Gonzaga), to capture the program’s sixth NCAA Championship.
This team was not as dominant as the ’09 Tar Heels, nor did it have the lottery picks of the ’05 Tar Heels, but they arguably played with more heart, grit, and desire than either of those squads. It did not always look pretty, but, this UNC team just found a way to win. For that reason, they are one of the most special teams in the history of Carolina Basketball.
No. 1: 2009
Dominant is the best adjective to describe the 2009 North Carolina Tar Heels. This team is not just one of the best teams in UNC Basketball history, but in all of College Basketball history. After an embarrassing Final Four loss to Kansas in 2008, Carolina returned all five of it’s starters: Reigning National Player of the Year Tyler Hansbrough, elite point guard Ty Lawson, sharpshooter Wayne Ellington, three-and-D wing Danny Green, and solid post scorer Deon Thompson.
Hansbrough maintained his level of dominance, while Lawson, Ellington, Green, and Thompson all got even better. On top of all of this, UNC was bringing in a phenomenal recruiting class, including 5-star big men Ed Davis and Tyler Zeller.
With all of the talent and experience on this team, expectations were high heading into the year. It is safe to say that UNC lived up to those expectations. The Tar Heels lost just four games all season, won the ACC Regular Season Title, and swept Duke.
Hansbrough broke records all year, and Ty Lawson was named both ACC Player of the Year and the Cousy Award winner, given annually to the nation’s top point guard.
The reign of dominance carried over to the NCAA Tournament. The closest victory for Carolina was a 12-point win over Oklahoma in the Elite Eight. In the National Championship game, the Tar Heels put together another dominant performance, defeating Michigan State 89-72, a fitting end to the careers of Hansbrough, Lawson, Ellington, and Green.