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Andy Wittry | | February 17, 2022

Roy Williams' 9 best teams at North Carolina and Kansas, ranked

Roy Williams' impact, legacy at North Carolina won't be soon forgotten

College Basketball Hall of Fame coach Roy Williams spent 33 seasons as the head coach at Kansas or North Carolina, spanning all or part of five different decades, and we ranked every single one of them.

To try to make the rankings as objective as possible and to avoid biases of recency or the eventual NBA careers of Kansas and North Carolina basketball alums, I created a point system to evaluate teams across the five decades of Williams' head coaching tenure.

The maximum number of points was 475 — 100 points for non-conference play, 100 points for the conference regular season, 100 points for a team's Simple Rating System (SRS) rating that takes into account point differential and strength of schedule, 25 points for a team's conference tournament finish, 50 points for a team's NCAA tournament seed, and 100 points for a team's NCAA tournament finish. Each team's non-conference and conference schedule were evaluated based on winning percentage in order to adjust for the different number of games played in different seasons.

You can click or tap here to view the complete spreadsheet of the calculations and rankings.

Here are Roy Williams' nine best teams at North Carolina and Kansas, ranked.

1. 2004-05 North Carolina

Record: 33-4
ACC tournament finish: Lost in the semifinals
NCAA tournament seed: No. 1 seed
NCAA tournament finish: Won the national championship

In 2003, the final season of former North Carolina coach Matt Doherty's tenure in Chapel Hill, the Tar Heels missed the NCAA tournament for the second season in a row. In 2005, they won the national championship in Roy Williams' second season as the school's head coach.

The team's top five scorers  Sean May (pictured above), Rashad McCants, Jawad Williams, Raymond Felton and Marvin Williams, all of whom averaged more than 11 points per game — were each former consensus top-11 recruits in their respective high school graduating classes, and each would later play in the NBA. Here's a point worth noting: The first four players who were previously mentioned, plus the team's six through eighth leading scorers, were upperclassmen, so Williams inherited a core that missed the NCAA tournament as freshmen or sophomores, then turned them into national champs.

On opening night of the 2005 season, it probably wasn't apparent that North Carolina, ranked No. 4 in the preseason AP poll, was going to win the title. Santa Clara, a team that ultimately finished with a 15-16 record overall and a .500 record in WCC play, knocked off North Carolina by 11 points on Nov. 19, 2004.

But the Tar Heels won their next 14 games, including double-digit wins over Kentucky and Georgia Tech teams that were each ranked No. 8 in the AP poll at the time. Their non-conference schedule featured consecutive games against BYU, Tennessee, Iowa, Southern California, Indiana, Kentucky, Loyola Chicago, Virginia Tech and Vermont. Based on Sports Reference's SRS metric, North Carolina's 2005 team was the second-best in program history, behind only the 1992-93 Tar Heels.

The 14-game winning streak from Nov. 22 through Jan. 12 was North Carolina's longest of the season, but the Tar Heels also had winning streaks of seven, six and five games, with the most important streak being the school's half-dozen wins in the NCAA tournament, four of which came over teams ranked in the top 20 of the final AP poll.

In the national title game, North Carolina knocked off fellow No. 1 seed Illinois, which was 37-1 at the time and which had started the season 29-0 before falling to Ohio State in its regular season finale by one point on the road.

2. 2008-09 North Carolina

Record: 34-4
ACC tournament finish: Lost in the semifinals
NCAA tournament seed: No. 1 seed
NCAA tournament finish: Won the national championship

Four years after Williams won his first national championship at North Carolina, he won a second. While there was complete roster turnover from 2005 to 2009, the latter group was built similarly to the former. North Carolina's top five scorers in 2009 were juniors or seniors, with numerous future NBA players — Tyler Hansbrough (20.7 points per game), Ty Lawson (16.6), Wayne Ellington (15.8) and Danny Green (13.1) — plus they enrolled a very talented, immediate-impact freshman in Ed Davis (6.7 points and 6.6 rebounds).

Hansbrough, a senior, was coming off of a junior campaign in which he was named the Naismith Player of the Year and he once again earned consensus first-team All-America honors, alongside future NBA stars Steph Curry (Davidson), Blake Griffin (Oklahoma) and James Harden (Arizona State). Lawson earned second-team honors.

North Carolina started the season ranked No. 1 in the preseason AP poll and the Tar Heels held onto that perch for the entire 2008 portion of the season, or the first eight AP polls of the 2008-09 campaign. They started 13-0 and they went a perfect 14-0 in non-conference play that season, including four 100-point outbursts in their first nine games.

They lost just four times all season, by a combined 16 points, twice to ranked opponents, and three of the four losses came away from home.

Remarkably, five of North Carolina's six opponents in the NCAA tournament were ranked in the final AP poll of the regular season: No. 8 seed LSU (ranked No. 21 in the final AP poll), No. 4 seed Gonzaga (No. 10), No. 2 seed Oklahoma (No. 7), No. 3 seed Villanova (No. 11) and No. 2 seed Michigan State (No. 8).

That means the Tar Heels beat a fifth of the entire AP Top 25 in the span of 17 days by an average of 15.6 points — and each win came by at least 12 points.

It objectively has a case to be one of the most dominant NCAA tournament runs in March Madness history.


3. 2007-08 North Carolina

Record: 36-3
ACC tournament finish: Won ACC tournament
NCAA tournament seed: No. 1 seed
NCAA tournament finish: Lost in the Final Four

The season before North Carolina won its second national championship of the Roy Williams era, the Tar Heels were essentially just as good, but they fell just shy of cutting down the nets in April, as they lost in the Final Four to No. 1 seed Kansas, which ultimately won the national title.

The '08 Tar Heels, led by many of the same players who would later bring a championship to Chapel Hill (Naismith Player of the Year Tyler Hansbrough, Wayne Ellington, Ty Lawson and Danny Green), actually had a better record than their successors. North Carolina went 36-3 in 2008, good for an .875 winning percentage, which is tied for 15th in program history and the school's fifth-best since the NCAA tournament expanded to 64 teams in the 1985 season.

In his national player of the year campaign, Hansbrough averaged 22.6 points and 10.2 rebounds per game.

The Tar Heels hit the ground running that season, going undefeated into mid-January with an 18-0 record with five 100-point scoring efforts in their first 12 games. Their first win of the season? A 72-68 road win over Davidson and a then-baby-faced guard named Stephen Curry, who scored 24 points on a not particularly efficient 8-for-22 shooting effort in which he went just two for 12 from 3.

North Carolina's first loss of the season came to ACC foe Maryland by just two points. The Tar Heels' only other two losses that season were more lopsided — an 11-point home defeat at the hands of No. 2 Duke, then a season-ending 84-66 defeat to Kansas in the Final Four. But in between the losses to the Blue Devils and Jayhawks, the Tar Heels won 15 games in a row to finish atop the ACC standings with a 14-2 conference record, then they won the ACC tournament.

The Tar Heels spent the first 11 weeks of the season, and 14 total, ranked No. 1 in the AP poll. They were never ranked outside of the top five all season.

4. 2016-17 North Carolina

Record: 33-7
ACC tournament finish: Lost in the semifinals
NCAA tournament seed: No. 1 seed
NCAA tournament finish: Won the national championship

North Carolina's 2016 campaign ended in the ultimate heartbreak, when Villanova forward Kris Jenkins had the ultimate March Madness moment — a national championship-winning buzzer-beater. You can relive the moment, complete with every angle of the shot, in our NCAA Video Vault series.

But the next season, the Tar Heels, finished the job, bringing North Carolina its sixth men's basketball championship and the third of Williams' tenure. Just like their immediate predecessor, the 2017 Tar Heels went 33-7 overall, 14-4 in the ACC's regular season slate and earned a No. 1 seed.

Similar to Williams' first two national title-winning teams, they were experienced, with the four players who averaged at least 10 points per game consisting of two seniors and two juniors. This was a North Carolina team largely built around the strength of its forwards — junior Justin Jackson, 6-foot-8, led the team in scoring at 18.3 points per game while shooting 37 percent on seven 3-point attempts per game, and traditional bigs Kennedy Meeks (12.5 points and 9.5 rebounds per game) and Isaiah Hicks (11.8 points and 5.5 rebounds) added a formidable duo in the frontcourt.

Point guard Joel Berry II (14.7 points and 3.6 assists per game) ran the show on offense and provided a 38-percent and high-volume 3-point shooting threat.

While North Carolina was very good, it wasn't necessarily always considered elite that season, earning a top-five ranking in just four of the 19 AP polls that season, peaking at No. 3 for one week. The Tar Heels were ranked as low as No. 14 in early January.

North Carolina had two seven-game winning streaks during the regular season — once to start the season and again in January — so the Tar Heels proved they were capable of winning the requisite six games needed to win the national championship, but they were just 6-5 against ranked opponents prior to Selection Sunday, with double-digit road losses at Duke (and again to the Blue Devils in the ACC tournament) and Virginia, and a nine-point loss at Indiana. In the CBS Sports Classic, No. 6 Kentucky edged North Carolina 103-100 in a game that was an instant classic.

But in March, once the NCAA tournament started, the Tar Heels repeatedly won by thin margins and that made all the difference. They knocked off the pesky, No. 8-seeded Arkansas Razorbacks in the second round 72-65 in a game Arkansas led 65-60 with less than four minutes remaining. Reserve forward Luke Maye's game-winner against No. 2 seed Kentucky allowed the Tar Heels to avenge their previous loss to the Wildcats and it propelled them to the Final Four with a 75-73 win.

North Carolina's narrowest margin of victory during its 2017 NCAA tournament run was in the Final Four against No. 3 seed Oregon, 77-76. A 14-2 Tar Heels run that spanned halftime put them in charge, but Oregon clawed back to within one point with roughly six seconds left. Kennedy Meeks missed a pair of free throws but Theo Pinson was able to get the offensive rebound and when Berry missed a pair of free throws, it was Meeks who grabbed the offensive board after the second miss, as the Tar Heels hung on and advanced to the national championship game.

In the national title game, North Carolina faced fellow No. 1 seed Gonzaga, which made its debut in the national championship game, and the two sides battled in a back-and-forth second half. After Gonzaga led for roughly the final 15 minutes of the first half, North Carolina's 12-2 run put the Tar Heels ahead, and when Gonzaga took a late 63-62 lead, North Carolina delivered a counterpunch thanks to seven consecutive North Carolina points from Justin Jackson.

5. 2001-02 Kansas

Record: 33-4
Big 12 tournament finish: Lost in the Big 12 tournament final
NCAA tournament seed: No. 1 seed
NCAA tournament finish: Lost in the Final Four

Based on our point system, Roy Williams' best Kansas team was his second-to-last one, which went undefeated in Big 12 regular-season play, earned a No. 1 seed and advanced to the sport's final weekend. The Jayhawks essentially played a seven-man rotation — those seven averaged at least 15 minutes per game and no one else played more than seven per game — and six of those seven players went on to play in the NBA and each of them was a former consensus top-100 recruit in high school.

Junior forward Drew Gooden, pictured above, was the team's leading scorer at 19.8 points per game and he averaged a double-double with 11.4 boards per game, and Nick Collison (15.6 points and 8.3 rebounds per game), Kirk Hinrich (14.8 points and 5.0 assists per game) and Jeff Boschee (13.4 points per game) also averaged double figures in points per game.

The Jayhawks spent the entire season ranked in the top 10 of the AP poll — the top eight, in fact — including four weeks at No. 1 between January and March. Twenty-nine of Kansas' 33 wins came during a pair of winning streaks — a 13-game run after the Jayhawks dropped their season opener to Ball State, then 16 wins in a row from mid-January through the semifinals of the Big 12 tournament. They reached the 100-point mark 12 times in 37 games and the first eight came in four pairs of back-to-back games.

In the NCAA tournament, Kansas defeated ranked opponents in the second round, Sweet 16 and Elite Eight, when it defeated No. 8 seed and No. 24 Stanford, No. 4 seed and No. 13 Illinois and No. 2 seed and No. 11 Oregon. In the Final Four, Kansas fell to Juan Dixon and No. 1 seed Maryland, which went on to win its first-ever national championship.

6. 2015-16 North Carolina

Record: 33-7
ACC tournament finish: Won ACC tournament
NCAA tournament seed: No. 1 seed
NCAA tournament finish: Lost in the national championship

The aforementioned 2016 Tar Heels came almost as close to winning a national championship as you can come without winning one. In the national championship game against No. 2 seed Villanova, North Carolina took a 39-34 lead into halftime and when the Wildcats pulled away by as many as 10 points in the second half, the Tar Heels rallied and ultimately tied the game at 74 on Marcus Paige's contorted 3-pointer with roughly six seconds left.

You probably know what happened next.

But if Kris Jenkins' buzzer-beater hadn't gone in, the game would've gone to overtime. Jenkins and reserve Mikal Bridges each had four fouls, while none of North Carolina's starters had more than three.

North Carolina's pursuit of a sixth national title would have to wait — but not long. The 2017 Tar Heels, with many of the same players in starring roles, finished the job.

MORE: We ranked Coach K's 11 best teams at Duke | Bill Self's 7 best teams at Kansas

7. 1996-97 Kansas

Record: 34-2
Big 12 tournament finish: Won Big 12 tournament
NCAA tournament seed: No. 1 seed
NCAA tournament finish: Lost in the Sweet 16

Kansas' 1997 squad still holds the second-best single-season winning percentage in program history, .944, which is tied with three 17-1 seasons from the 1910s and '20s. The only better winning percentage was from the 1909-10 season, when Kansas played in the Missouri Valley Conference and went 18-1.

So, for all intents and purposes, this was one of the most dominant Kansas teams ever, but certainly in the modern era.

If you weren't alive during the 1997 college basketball season, or if you were too young to remember those Jayhawks, you'll likely recognize at least one of their star players. Paul Pierce was a sophomore on that Kansas team and he averaged 16.3 points and 6.8 rebounds per game, alongside leading scorer Raef LaFrentz, who averaged 18.5. points and 9.3 rebounds per game.

LaFrentz was a consensus first-team All-American and senior guard Jacque Vaughn (10.2 points and 6.2 assists per game) was a consensus second-team All-American. Both Pierce and Scot Pollard (10.3 points and 8.3 rebounds per game) received honorable mention honors from the Associated Press.

From Dec. 2, 1996 until the end of the regular season, Kansas was ranked No. 1 in the country and the Jayhawks' worst ranking that season was the three weeks they spent at No. 2 to start the season. They won their first 22 games before losing at Missouri, 96-94, in double overtime. They responded with a road win over No. 6 Iowa State five days later, then scored a combined 218 points in the two games after that. Kansas tore through the Big 12 tournament, winning each of its three games by at least 15 points.

The Jayhawks entered Selection Sunday with a 32-1 record and it deservedly received a No. 1 seed. After 14-point wins over No. 16 seed Jackson State and No. 8 seed Purdue, Kansas fell to the ultimate national champion, No. 4 seed Arizona, 85-82. Those Wildcats beat three of the four No. 1 seeds and won two of their final three games in overtime, against Providence in the Elite Eight and Kentucky in the national championship, and Kansas' 1997 squad is left with the distinction of potentially being one of the best men's basketball teams in the modern era to not win the national championship.

8. 2002-03 Kansas

Record: 30-8
Big 12 tournament finish: Lost in the semifinals
NCAA tournament seed: No. 2 seed
NCAA tournament finish: Lost in the national championship

Roy Williams' final team at Kansas lost in the final game of the 2003 season — an 81-78 loss to Jim Boeheim, Carmelo Anthony and No. 3 seed Syracuse. It was Williams' 15th season as a head coach and his ninth team that earned a No. 1 or No. 2 seed. It was his fourth trip to the Final Four with Kansas and his second time playing for a national championship, but he was still searching for his first title.

After the 2002 Jayhawks went to the Final Four as a No. 1 seed, seniors Nick Collison (18.5 points and 10.0 rebounds per game) and Kirk Hinrich (17.3 points per game) returned and they were surrounded by talented sophomores in Keith Langford (15.9), Wayne Simien (14.8) and Aaron Miles (8.9).

Kansas was ranked No. 2 in the preseason poll but after dropping to 3-3 on the season, with early losses to North Carolina, Florida and Oregon (the latter two teams were each ranked No. 7 at the time), the Jayhawks quickly fell into the 20s in the AP poll but a 10-game winning streak and a later seven-game streak allowed them to win the Big 12's regular season title and reach No. 4 in the AP poll in March.

They were 25-7 on Selection Sunday and they earned a No. 2 seed. After a first-round scare over No. 15 seed Utah State, 64-61, Kansas later rattled off major victories over No. 3 seed Duke, No. 1 seed Arizona (which had beaten Kansas by 17 on a neutral court in late January) and No. 3 seed Marquette.

In the national championship game, Anthony, the incredibly talented Syracuse freshman, went for 20 points and 10 rebounds, while the Orange made 61 percent of their 18 3-pointers, while the Jayhawks were just four for 20 from deep. Collison played the entire game and finished with 21 rebounds and one point shy of a 20-20 game, while Jeff Graves had 16 and 16.

That offseason, Roy Williams was hired by North Carolina.

9. 2006-07 North Carolina

Record: 31-7
ACC tournament finish: Won the ACC tournament
NCAA tournament seed: No. 1 seed
NCAA tournament finish: Lost in the Elite Eight

Two years after Roy Williams won his first national championship, he put together another team that earned a No. 1 seed in the fourth year of his tenure in Chapel Hill. The 2007 Tar Heels were led by a youth movement of sophomore Tyler Hansbrough (18.4 points and 7.9 rebounds per game) and freshmen Brandan Wright, Wayne Ellington and Ty Lawson. Hansbrough was a consensus first-team All-American that season each of those four players was a former consensus top-eight recruit in their respective graduating classes in high school.

This group did reach No. 1 in  the AP poll for one week in January and spent all but three weeks ranked in the top five of the AP poll. While the Tar Heels sputtered a bit at the end of the regular season, going 5-4 over their final nine regular season games, with each loss against an unranked opponent, they still finished atop the ACC standings with Virginia, then won the ACC tournament.

After earning a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, North Carolina won its first three games in the Big Dance by double digits before falling in overtime to No. 2 seed Georgetown in the Elite Eight. All five Georgetown starters scored at least 13 points, while three North Carolina starters scored five points or fewer. The Tar Heels made just 39 percent of their 2-point attempts and 25 percent of their 3s in their season-ending loss.

To see Williams' teams that are ranked No. 12 through No. 33, click or tap here to view the complete spreadsheet.

Click here view the March Madness playlist on YouTube of memorable North Carolina men's basketball full-game replays, highlights and moments from the NCAA tournament, and click here for Kansas' highlights.

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