UNC Basketball Has Lost to Their Last 10 AP-Ranked Opponents

Mired in a streak that's occurred only one other time in history (72 years ago!), the Tar Heels look to end the current losing skid to ranked opponents on Saturday against Florida State.
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Given the historical dominance of the North Carolina men’s basketball program, it’s hard to fathom any sort of lengthy losing streak. Imagine my surprise, then, when I recently realized that the Tar Heels have lost to each of the last 10 AP-ranked opponents they have played.

On Friday, November 29, 2019, UNC beat (#11) Oregon in the third-place game of the Battle 4 Atlantis 78-74.

The next week, the Tar Heels got shellacked at home by (#6) Ohio State, 74-49. Thus began the current streak of 10 games lost at the hands of AP-ranked opponents.

In the midst of the injury-riddled 2019-20 season, Carolina lost six more games to AP-ranked opponents. Those teams included (#5) Virginia, (#2) Gonzaga, (#8) Florida State, (#7) Duke, (#11) Louisville, and (#12) Duke again.

The 2020-21 Tar Heels have lost to the first three AP-ranked opponents they’ve played to bring the losing streak up to 10. There was the heartbreaker vs. (#17) Texas, a loss in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge at (#3) Iowa, and the recent loss at (#9) Virginia.

Here’s the entirety of the current streak:

  1. (#6) Ohio State | 49-74 | 12/4/19
  2. (#5) Virginia | 47-56 | 12/8/19
  3. (#2) Gonzaga | 81-94 | 12/18/19
  4. (#8) Florida State | 59-65 | 2/3/20
  5. (#7) Duke | 96-98 | 2/8/20
  6. (#11) Louisville | 55-72 | 2/22/20
  7. (#12) Duke | 76-89 | 3/7/20
  8. (#17) Texas | 67-69 | 12/2/20
  9. (#3) Iowa | 80-93 | 12/8/20
  10. (#9) Virginia | 48-60 | 2/13/21

Similar to me, you, dear reader, must be thinking, “This has to be an anomaly, right? Surely the vaunted North Carolina Tar Heels have not had a similar streak often, if ever.”

And if you thought that, you would be right. Just one other time in the history of the North Carolina program and the AP Poll have the Tar Heels lost 10 or more times in a row when playing an AP-ranked foe.

Would you like to know when that streak began?

A whopping 72 years ago. January of 1949. The same month the AP Poll debuted. That streak actually ballooned up to 13 games.

Here’s that list:

  1. (#20) NYU | 48-72 | 1/6/49
  2. (#18) NC State | 39-79 | 2/19/49
  3. (#15) NC State | 40-43 | 3/4/49
  4. (#2) Kentucky | 44-86 | 1/9/50
  5. (#12) NC State | 57-61 | 1/21/50
  6. (#9) NC State | 44-70 | 2/21/50
  7. (#8) NC State | 58-71 | 2/27/51
  8. (#9) NC State | 53-68 | 2/17/51
  9. (#12) Duke | 59-77 | 12/5/51
  10. (#3) Illinois | 66-86 | 12/20/51
  11. (#19) NC State | 51-58 | 12/28/51
  12. (#12) West Virginia | 65-80 | 2/6/52
  13. (#15) Duke | 64-94 | 2/29/52

Even in the Matt Doherty-era, Carolina was able to stay away from a losing streak of 10 games or more to AP-ranked opponents. And yes, that includes the 8-20, 2001-02 iteration of the Tar Heels, who did lose nine games in a row against AP-ranked opponents, but put a stop to that by beating Roy Williams and the second-ranked Kansas Jayhawks 67-56 on November 27, 2002.

It is interesting to note that Carolina won just one of their first 20 games against AP-ranked teams. After the initial 13-game losing streak following the inception of the AP poll in January 1949, the Tar Heels beat NC State 70-69 on January 24, 1953. They then went on to lose their next six opportunities against AP-ranked opponents.

Curiously, on the opposite side of this investigation, Carolina has never had a streak of winning 10 straight games played against AP-ranked opponents. However, what they lack in an overwhelmingly long streak, they make up for in nine-game streaks (twice), eight-game streaks (five times), seven-game streaks (three times), and six-game streaks (four times).

As far as the losing streaks, Carolina has one 13-game streak, one 10-game streak (current), one nine-game streak, one eight-game streak, one seven-game streak, and two six-game streaks.

As you would imagine, over time, the good has definitely outweighed the bad. Despite the inauspicious 1-19 start following the introduction of the AP poll, today the Tar Heels are 339-267 all-time when playing AP-ranked opponents.

In a program marked by winning and success, it’s not surprising that a streak of this type has been few and far between. But it’s also completely shocking when it does happen. And it’s happening right now.

North Carolina’s NCAA Tournament hopes took a direct hit on Wednesday evening when they lost to Marquette (ranked 100 in the NET). But thankfully the Tar Heels have multiple opportunities left on the schedule to pick up key wins heading into Championship Week. And that starts with Saturday’s game against (#11) Florida State.

Not to mention, it’s a golden opportunity to put an end to this streak.

Here is a list of the five other losing streaks of six or more games to AP-ranked teams, as mentioned in the article:

Nine-Game Streak

  1. (#23) Wake Forest | 62-84 | 1/5/02
  2. (#4) Maryland | 79-112 | 1/9/02
  3. (#7) Virginia | 67-71 | 1/12/02
  4. (#1) Duke | 58-87 | 1/31/02
  5. (#19) Wake Forest | 66-90 | 2/6/02
  6. (#3) Maryland | 77-92 | 2/10/02
  7. (#10) Virginia | 63-73 | 2/12/02
  8. (#3) Duke | 68-93 | 3/3/02
  9. (#3) Duke | 48-60 | 3/8/02

Eight-Game Streak

  1. (#6) Duke | 57-79 | 2/3/62
  2. (#8) Duke | 74-82 | 2/24/62
  3. (#3) Duke | 69-77 | 2/2/63
  4. (#2) Duke | 93-106 | 2/23/63
  5. (#5) Kentucky | 80-100 | 12/9/63
  6. (#9) Duke | 64-84 | 1/11/64
  7. (#4) Duke | 69-104 | 2/29/64
  8. (#4) Duke | 49-65 | 3/6/64

Seven-Game Streak

  1. (#5) Kentucky | 66-68 | 12/5/09
  2. (#2) Texas | 90-103 | 12/19/09
  3. (#24) Clemson | 64-83 | 1/13/10
  4. (#20) Georgia Tech | 71-73 | 1/16/10
  5. (#8) Duke | 54-64 | 2/10/10
  6. (#4) Duke | 50-82 | 3/6/10
  7. (#20) Illinois | 67-79 | 11/30/10

Six-Game Streak (Two)

  1. (#15) NC State | 66-87 | 2/21/53
  2. (#12) NC State | 54-86 | 3/5/53
  3. (#4) Oregon State | 53-65 | 12/30/53
  4. (#8) Duke | 47-63 | 2/4/54
  5. (#14) Duke | 63-67 | 2/20/54
  6. (#18) NC State | 51-52 | 3/4/54
  1. (#18) NC State | 83-91 | 1/26/13
  2. (#8) Miami (FL) | 61-87 | 2/9/13
  3. (#2) Duke | 68-73 | 2/13/13
  4. (#3) Duke | 53-69 | 3/9/13
  5. (#9) Miami (FL) | 77-87 | 3/17/13
  6. (#3) Kansas | 58-70 | 3/24/13

Will UNC be able to stop the losing streak to AP-ranked teams before it gets to 11 games? Tune in Saturday at 4:00pm on ESPN to find out.

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