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 Tar Heels finished the season 29–7, 16–2 in ACC play to finish tied for the regular season conference championship with Virginia. As the No. 2 seed in the ACC Tournament, they advanced to the semifinals before ultimately losing to Duke. They received an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament as the No. 1 seed in the Midwest region, where they advanced to the Sweet Sixteen before losing to Auburn.