What If Tourney: 16/17 matchup

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The month of June brings our 'What If Tar Heel Tournament.' The brainchild of David Culp, the What If Tournament pits Tar Heel teams that might have been against each other. These are teams that could have existed if not for early entry into the NBA Draft for some players and injuries for others. Over the next three weeks, we'll bring you the matchups, with the 'what if' players highlighted, and ask for your votes to determine a winner. Today's matchup: The 2002 'What If' Tar Heels against the 1990 'What If' Tar Heels. The winner of today's play-in game, the honorary Les Robinson What If Tournament Invitational, moves into our full bracket of 16 "What If" Tar Heel teams, with Sweet 16 games beginning tomorrow.


Dean Smith's 1989-90 Tar Heels began their campaign ranked seventh nationally before dropping four of their first eight games. The team finished 21-13, knocking off No. 1 Oklahoma in the second round of the NCAA Tournament to reach the Sweet 16. But what if they'd had J.R. Reid, who'd been selected fifth overall by the Charlotte Hornets in the 1989 NBA Draft?

Coach: Dean Smith

Strengths: Inside/outside combo of Reid and Davis

Weaknesses: Not a great running team, backup PG (Denny? Rodl?)

Will win the tournament if: Davis gets hot, Reid finds a rhythm, Rice controls the tempo and makes it a half-court game

Will lose in the first round if: Reid gets winded or in foul trouble, no outside shooting support for Davis, opposing teams run

This team in one word (in this case, two letters): J.R.

Here's David's projected rotation for the 1989-90 What If Tar Heels:


The 2001-02 Tar Heels, coached by Matt Doherty, finished 8-20, as you well know. After starting 5-5, the team suffered losses in 15 of their final 18 games. But things could have been much different. Ronald Curry and Julius Peppers chose not to play basketball in preparation for the NFL Draft, and Joseph Forte (20.9 ppg) had jumped to the NBA after his sophomore season (he was selected 21st overall by the Boston Celtics in 2001). This What If team returns the bulk of a team that won 18 straight games in 2000-01.

Coach: Matt Doherty

Strengths: Physical play (Peppers/Lang)

Weaknesses: Depth

Will win the tournament if: Forte builds on ACC POY soph season, Peppers develops some offensive polish

Will lose in the first round if: Another scorer doesn't develop to support Forte

This team in one word: Muscular

Here's David's projected rotation for the 2001-02 What If Tar Heels:

Be sure to vote, and let us know what you think in the comments below!


  1. Jordan's avatar
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    Definitely 1990... The 01-02 team wasn't that great but it wasn't all because of the players. Remember there were 3 players on the 8-20 team that ended their careers winning a National Championship in St. Louis. I think it was more of a coaching issue than it was a player issue, granted those players were young and inexperienced, but coaching still seemed like a major issue in the time period from when Smith left until the time Williams stepped in.
  2. Troy's avatar
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    I gotta agree with Jordan, have to go with the coaching. No disrespect to Matt Doherty but how can you go against Coach Smith? 89-90 Heels all the way! Oh and gotta support new assistant coach Davis!

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