By Adam Lucas
Carolina won’t play in the Smith Center again this year. But before completely turning our attention to Brooklyn and the rest of the postseason, a quick question: was this the best home season in the history of the Smith Center?
It might have been. If you had season tickets to Carolina home games this year, consider what you saw:
A classic senior day win over Duke.
Five wins over ranked teams, including three wins over top-15 opponents (Duke moved into the top 15 after losing to the Tar Heels, which would’ve made the fourth).
Roy Williams' 800th career win.
Two ESPN Gameday appearances.
An undefeated mark for just the fifth time in the history of the building.
A pair of one-possession wins over Tennessee and Pittsburgh.
A jersey honoring ceremony for two of the most beloved Tar Heels of the Roy Williams era, Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson.
An ACC Player of the Year campaign from Justin Jackson, earning him a spot in the rafters alongside Paige and Johnson.
Four 1,000 point scorers on the same team for just the fourth time in school history (the others were 2001, 2005 and 2009).
Michael Jordan at center court.
That's an incredible list of memorable moments for one home season. There are programs that would be happy to have done the above in the last decade. Carolina did it in a season. The only possible credential missing from this year’s slate is a marquee win over a ranked nonconference team. The Tar Heels had a big win over Wisconsin, but that came in Maui.
Was it the best home season ever? All factors considered, there’s a strong argument to be made that it was. Remember, we’re judging the entire season. So the 1992 campaign had two terrific home games—the bloody Montross win over Duke and the epic comeback against Wake Forest—but otherwise had no wins over ranked opponents. That might have been the best week in Smith Center history, but it wasn’t the best season.
Ultimately, there are five strong contenders:
1986: Yes, this was only a partial season, but what a season. Carolina played eight games in the Smith Center, including the first-ever game in the building, as the top-ranked Tar Heels beat No. 3 Duke. Carolina also took a win over fourth-ranked Georgia Tech and a win over 16th-ranked Notre Dame. The one loss was the memorable Len Bias game.
1987: Carolina was undefeated at home, had a pair of wins over top-10 foes (fifth-ranked Illinois and tenth-ranked Clemson), plus a senior day win over 17th-ranked Duke. The one problem: a lack of big, I-remember-that victories.
1993: The Tar Heels were once again undefeated at home, had five wins over ranked teams and three wins over top-15 teams. The signature performance was probably the terrific comeback against a good Florida State club. Jim Valvano was part of the TV broadcast for the senior day win over Duke, one of his last public appearances on Tobacco Road.
1995: Five wins over ranked teams and a senior day win over Duke, plus you got to see Jerry Stackhouse and Rasheed Wallace at their high-flying best. This is also why 1998 would be a contender (Vince Carter and Antawn Jamison and one of the most fun Carolina teams ever, plus a 1 vs. 2 win over Duke), but an inexplicable home loss to NC State sullied a would-be undefeated mark.
2005: Roy Williams earned his first perfect mark at the Smith Center, going 15-0, with three wins over top-10 teams and four wins over ranked opponents. The Tar Heels had a good win over a solid Kentucky team and capped the year with one of the most memorable senior days in program history, highlighted by Marvin Williams’ game-winner to beat Duke (2009 might want to get into this discussion also, and Jordan also came to that senior day, but there's an unfortunate loss to Boston College on the record).
Your favorite from the above list probably depends on how old you are. It’s hard to distinguish between 1993 and 2005—two national champions that went undefeated in the building and notched signature, memorable victories—at the top of the list. This year’s team can’t yet match the title criteria, but meets all the other standards. For now, it’s enough to say it’s one of the three best home seasons in the history of a building with numerous milestone victories.