A Season of Firsts

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – The lofty expectations that followed North Carolina into the 2009-10 season varied from Final Four splendor to something short of an ACC contender. But no one predicted the free fall into the conference basement, complete with numerous records that the Tar Heels would have rather avoided.

North Carolina firmly inserted itself into Tuesday's headlines by failing to place a player on any of the All-ACC basketball squads that were announced Monday afternoon, marking the first time in the program's history that a Tar Heel has not appeared on that award list.

That development is only fitting as UNC has broken records and streaks at a frightening pace this season. It's become commonplace for sportswriters to frantically search through Tar Heel history after games this season in an attempt to unearth the latest fallen trend or statistic.

Never before has a North Carolina media guide been this popular.

The statistician's dream started in Arlington, Tex. on Dec. 19. In its 103-90 victory, Texas pulled down 29 offensive rebounds, the most ever against a Williams-led squad. The Longhorns' 103 points also represented the most points scored in regulation against UNC in the Williams era.

Once the ACC schedule arrived, records started falling left and right. Clemson's 19-point victory on Jan. 13 marked UNC's worst loss under Williams, only to be broken a month later by Maryland's 92-71 win in College Park. Duke blasted those margins out of the water on Saturday with its 82-50 clinic at Cameron Indoor.

North Carolina's 82-69 loss to Wake Forest on Jan. 20 produced the first three-game losing streak under Williams, but the Tar Heels bested that record three weeks later with a four-game losing streak, culminating with a home loss to Duke on Feb. 10.

For the first time in program history, the Tar Heels failed to score 80 points or more in at least one conference game. Currently scoring 75.7 points per game, this North Carolina squad will likely become only the fourth team in Williams' 22 seasons that failed to average 80 or more points per outing.

But we're not done yet. Not even close.

UNC set eight single-games lows during the Williams' era this season – field goals (16 at Duke), field goal percentage in a half (22.6 at Georgia Tech), 3-point field goals (1 at Boston College), 3-point field goal attempts (four vs. Gardner-Webb), rebound margin (minus-19 vs. Texas), points (50 at Duke), points in a half (21 at Georgia Tech) and scoring margin (32-point loss at Duke).

The Tar Heels also set a single-game high under their Hall of Fame coach, coughing up 26 turnovers to both Florida International and Clemson.

While we're at it, we may as well mention that Williams' streak of 20 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances with a win – the only coach to ever accomplish that feat – is an ACC Tournament loss away from being broken. And speaking of that old cocktail party, UNC is playing on Thursday for the first time ever.

On the injury front, eight different Tar Heels have missed a combined 35 games. Prior to injuring his back against Miami last Tuesday, Deon Thompson had been the lone UNC scholarship player to avoid suffering an injury this season.

"I haven't had anything like that ever," Williams said concerning the plethora of injuries on Monday.

The injuries have no doubt played a role in this season's 16-15 (5-11 ACC) record, but the countless other issues plaguing this squad have been discussed ad nauseam – shaky point guard play, lack of leadership, minimal perimeter shooting, inconsistent post play, etc.

Williams was asked during Monday's press conference if he had considered the possibility that, for whatever reason, this was just not intended to be his season.

He responded by saying, "No – I get emotional, I get sad, I get frustrated, I get ticked off and then I go back to work. There's sometimes where I've felt like… I can't describe it. It's not a good feeling. But I go back to work. That's the only way that I know how to do something."

But there's no doubt where the '09-10 season ranks in his internal database.

"This has been the most frustrating season by far," Williams said. "It's not even close to what my first year was at Kansas, not even close to what my first year back was at North Carolina… There's no question that I haven't had anything like this. I haven't done a very good job with it either, so I need to get better."

With the losses mounting and the records falling, the obvious disappointment that this season represents serves as an albatross that will settle on this program until victories return by the truckload to Chapel Hill.

"It's just not what you expected," fifth-year senior Marcus Ginyard said. "It's not the way you wanted to see it happen and not the way you would have ever imagined it happening. But it's the way it's going, so we've got to find a way to deal with it."

Now that the regular season is over, North Carolina's only chance at an NCAA Tournament berth is to add another "first" to its season-long list – becoming the first program to claim the ACC Tournament title by winning four straight games this weekend in Greensboro, N.C.

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