Team Preview: UNC Tar Heels
By: Doug McCooeye
2011-2012 Record: 32-6, 14-2 in the ACC
Coach: Roy Williams, 257-68 at North Carolina, 675-169 overall
The University of North Carolina men’s basketball team has been the beneficiary of two of the most infamous mental mistakes in basketball history: Fred Brown’s turnover and Chris Webber’s timeout. Every few seasons they’re in the hunt for a national title, often as the favorite. While they are lucky at times, they are always good. They are one of the beacon programs of college basketball. Every win against UNC is considered a “signature win.” The road to the championship always seems to roll through Chapel Hill.
Only this year the Tar Heels are in an unfamiliar position: under the radar.
Strongside: Anyone who discounts a Roy Williams team is fooling themselves. While this year’s crop may not have the type of big game experience that last year’s squad did, they have boatloads of talent. They just haven’t had a chance to show it yet.
James McAdoo, related to NBA Hall of Famer Bob McAdoo, is the cornerstone of this Carolina squad. The 6’9” power forward was highly touted coming into last year but had a tough time getting significant crunch time minutes and touches behind the talent that surrounded him. Now a sophomore, he’ll be asked to carry the scoring load and patrol the paint for the Heels.
McAdoo is surrounded by Reggie Bullock, P. J. Hairston and Dexter Strickland, as well as a number of freshmen, including the dynamic Marcus Paige, who is already averaging nearly 25 minutes a game. Unlike in years past, the team lacks a clear star, someone with the talent to carry them through the rough patches. But the overall talent and depth is there, and if there’s a coach in the country who can figure out how to make it all work in time for March, it’s Roy Williams.
Weakside: About 90 percent of the NCAA Division 1 basketball programs understand that when they recruit a player, they are getting him for four years. The time spent scouting, talking, emailing, texting, meeting, paying for the school visit and so on is worth it, because if the player comes they are getting him for a long stretch of time. It’s worth the investment.
There are a handful of programs, however, that are the exception to this rule. North Carolina is one of them. It comes with recruiting the best players in the country year in and year out. After a season is done, head coach Roy Williams never knows how many of his players will make the leap to the NBA. This, at times, makes it difficult to recruit, as you may have been banking on a player staying who suddenly decides to leave. Or vice versa.
North Carolina lost four key players to the NBA draft last year: Harrison Barnes, John Henson, Kendall Marshall and Tyler Zeller. Of those guys, only Zeller was a senior. So North Carolina is actually in a bit of a rebuilding mode this season. (Most teams would kill to still be ranked in the top 25 after losing four NBA-draft-quality starters from the previous year, but anything below a top-10 ranking for North Carolina is considered a down year).
While they only have two losses so far this season—to at the time number-one-ranked Indiana and to Butler, the only team to beat Indiana so far this season—Carolina has not been that impressive. They are young and not highly regarded. You have heard scant mention of this team as a Final Four contender.
This of course makes them extremely dangerous.
All Told: The expectations are low. While they have some talent, much of it is unproven. The ACC is not as strong as in past years, and the Tar Heels should easily coast to an NCAA tournament berth. At this point, no one is scared of them. But come Selection Sunday, teams will be hoping that they don’t get put in Carolina’s bracket, since history has shown that Lady Luck has a soft spot for the boys from Chapel Hill.