The 2009–2010 Tar Heels struggled throughout the regular season finishing with a 16–15 record, and dropped to #3 in Division I in all-time wins. They later lost in the first round of the ACC Tournament, playing in the first "play-in" Thursday game for the first time since the ACC grew to 12 teams. The Tar Heels did not receive an NCAA tournament bid, and instead accepted a bid to the NIT. During the season, the Tar Heels reached the 2,000-win milestone with a home win over Miami on March 2, 2010, becoming the second fastest college team to do so (North Carolina was in its 100th season of basketball at the time of this accomplishment). The Tar Heels were able to make it to the final game of the NIT, losing to Dayton in the final game finishing with a 20-17 record.
The 2011–2012 Tar Heels finished the regular season with a final record of 32-6, including a 14–2 record in ACC regular season play which allowed the team to win the conference regular season championship outright. The team fell to Florida State in the championship game of the 2012 ACC Men's Basketball Tournament. The team was a #1 seed in the Midwest Regional of the 2012 NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Tournament; the team reached the Elite Eight and was defeated by Kansas 80-67. This defeat was the second time UNC lost to Kansas in the NCAA Tournament with Roy Williams as UNC head coach. He previously coached Kansas from 1988 to 2003. The loss to Kansas was also UNC's second straight loss in the Elite Eight, after losing to Kentucky the year before. Kansas later fell to Kentucky 67-59 in the National Championship Game. Before the Kansas game, the Tar Heels won their previous three games in the NCAA Tournament by an average of 13.7 points. In the second-round game versus Creighton, starting UNC point guard Kendall Marshall broke his right wrist with 10:56 remaining in the second half with UNC leading 66-50. Marshall continued to play by dribbling primarily with his left hand, including getting fouled on a drive to the basket with 7:09 left in the second half. He left the game against Creighton with two minutes left with UNC leading 85-69. Williams announced Kendall Marshall's injury at the Creighton post-game press conference. Kendall Marshall did not play in UNC's two following games in the NCAA Tournament, a 73-65 overtime win over Ohio in the Sweet 16 and the aforementioned 67-80 loss to Kansas in the Elite Eight.
North Carolina is still alive in the recruitment for five-star shooting guard Bryce Thompson, one of the top uncommitted recruits in the 2020 class. The Tulsa, Oklahoma native cut his list down to seven teams in August. On Sunday, Thompson cut his list one more time as he trimmed it down to four finalists: UNC, Kansas, Oklahoma State, and Oklahoma. (Keeping It Heel)