In light of UNCG’s successes on the basketball court this season, it seemed like an interesting concept to look at all of the great UNCG teams that represented the University and flirted with national relevance.
The basketball team would have undoubtedly flirted with a top 25 ranking had they been able to hold on and upset Gonzaga in the Round of 64. They also undoubtedly would have been ranked if they had gone on to defeat Ohio State in the Round of 32 just as Gonzaga did, although this is all purely hypothetical.
In reality, a few UNCG teams actually had periods of sustained success when it came to the national rankings and they deserve to be recognized.
First thing’s first, some acknowledgment will be given to Spartan athletic teams that accomplished great feats without being ranked in the Top 25 poll. The first honorable mention is the 1982 Women’s Basketball team that was national runner-up while competing at the Division III level, while again reaching the DIII Final Four in 1988.
The second honorable mention goes to the 2000-2001 Men’s Basketball team led by coach Fran McCaffery. The Spartans finished the season with a 19-12 (10-6 SoCon) record and would upset Chattanooga in the SoCon title game by a score of 67-66 to earn an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, at the time only the second berth in the history of the program.
Unfortunately, the Spartans were only able to earn a number 16 seed and were defeated by number one seed Stanford, led by future NBA lottery pick Josh Childress. In the following year under McCaffery, the Spartans finished with a 20-11 (11-5 SoCon) record and would earn a share of the SoCon regular season title for the first time since the school joined the conference.
Unfortunately, the Spartans were unable to win the SoCon conference tournament and failed to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. Instead, they received a bid to the NIT where they would lose in the first round to the eventual champion Memphis Tigers. Fran McCaffery would go onto become the coach at the University of Iowa in 2010, where he still remains to this day.
The third honorable mention goes to the 2006 baseball team, which defeated North Carolina, the number one overall team in the country, by a score of 7-6. The Spartans were led by current Baltimore Orioles First Baseman Danny Valencia.
The fourth and final honorable mention goes to the 1995-1996 Men’s Basketball team that won the Big South and earned a number 15 seed in the NCAA Tournament narrowly losing to number two seed Cincinnati 66-61 in the Round of 64.
While these honorable mentions were truly notable accomplishments, they all pale in comparison to the continued excellence that Men’s Soccer has displayed since its inception. Beginning in 1982, while competing at the Division III level, the Spartans went on an absurd run, winning five out of six championships in a six-year span. The Spartans won the 1982, 1983, 1985, 1986 and 1987 Division III national titles.
Following this ridiculous run of Chicago Bulls-esque dominance, the Spartans moved up to compete at the Division II level in 1988. That did not matter, as the team proceeded to make the 1989 Division II National Championship, where they would, unfortunately, lose Southern New Hampshire University. While still competing at the Division II level in 1991, the Spartans defeated NC State, which was ranked as the number two team in the nation at the time.
All of that only leads up to the Men’s Soccer program’s true dream season in 2004, when the team now competing at the Division I level was ranked as the first in the entire nation for 11 weeks throughout the season. The 2004 team would win the SoCon regular season title as well. Unfortunately, despite being considered one of the heavy favorites for the national title that year, the Spartans were upset by UC Santa Barbara in the Sweet Sixteen of the tournament.
Nonetheless, it was still a hugely successful time for the program, as they were consistently ranked in the Top 25 for five seasons from 2004-2008. This amazing stretch of success includes four Sweet Sixteen appearances, three SoCon regular season championships, three SoCon conference tournament championships and one loss in the SoCon championship game.