Smith unexpectedly retired before the start of practice for the 1997–98 season. He was succeeded by Bill Guthridge, who had been an assistant coach at the school for 30 years, the last 25 as Smith's top assistant. During Guthridge's three seasons as head coach he posted an 80–28 record, making him tied for the then-NCAA record for most wins by a coach after three seasons. The Tar Heels reached the NCAA Final Four twice, in the 1998 tournament and again in the 2000 tournament. North Carolina reached the Final Four in 2000 as an 8-seed, their lowest seeding in a Final Four appearance.
In 1960, the Tar Heels were placed on NCAA probation for "improper recruiting entertainment" of basketball prospects. As a result, they were barred from the 1961 NCAA tournament and also withdrew from the 1961 ACC Tournament. Following the season, Chancellor William Aycock forced McGuire to resign. As a replacement, Aycock selected one of McGuire's assistants, Kansas alumnus Dean Smith.
“There is always tremendous excitement surrounding ACC Basketball, and that’s no different as we look ahead to the 2019-20 season,” said ACC Commissioner John Swofford. “The league is coming off its third national championship in the last five seasons, and the collective success by our programs is second-to-none. In addition to the anticipation for the season to begin, this year also marks the debut of ACC Basketball on ACC Network which will provide our fans with even more opportunities to follow all of our programs.”
From the ACC's inception in 1953 to 2001, the Tar Heels did not finish worse than a tie for fourth place in ACC play. By comparison, all of the ACC's other charter members finished last at least once in that time. From 1965 to 2001, they did not finish worse than a tie for third, and for the first 21 of those years they did not finish worse than a tie for second.