A Look At UNC's Big Man Recruiting

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

On Tuesday we looked at how the wing reciting unfolded over the past few years, today we examine the big man recruiting.

Unlike the wing position, there is no shortage of big men on the Tar Heel roster. The question that is persistently raised is to the quality of the big men recruited. Aside from James Michael McAdoo and Isaiah Hicks, both are whom have not consistently lived up to their ranking, UNC has not recruited an impact big man since John Henson in 2010. That has included multiple misses over the past three recruiting cycles and ultimately resulting in the Tar Heels taking players in the middle of the top 100 instead of towards the top of it. That doesn't necessarily mean UNC is doomed for poor post play until an elite big man shows up. However it does point to the need for more development once the players how up which is part of the issue with the current season.

Historical Perspective

The list of big men UNC has brought in under Roy Williams.

Class Players
2004 NONE
2005 Tyler Hansbrough, Mike Copeland
2006 Brandan Wright, Deon Thompson, Alex Stepheson
2007 NONE
2008 Tyler Zeller, Ed Davis
2009 John Henson, Travis Wear, David Wear
2010 NONE
2011 James Michael McAdoo, Desmond Hubert
2012 Brice Johnson, Joel James
2013 Isaiah Hicks, Kennedy Meeks

There hasn't been many gaps in what UNC has brought in with the additional benefit of the Tar Heels getting four years out of Tyler Hansbrough, Deon Thompson and Tyler Zeller plus three years from John Henson. The attrition of Marvin Williams, Alex Stepheson and Ed Davis were not huge issues. The presence of David and Travis Wear however was problematic.The Wear Twins are often pinpointed as the catalyst for a disruption in the big man recruiting cycle though they are not the only reason. UNC didn't bring in an interior commit in 2010 which was a direct result of UNC having four big men on the roster and negating any reason to pursue a big man. The question is how much of an impact did the Wears plus Henson and Zeller have on the 2011 class and beyond?

Here is the least three years of big men ranked in the top 25 by Scout and players outside the top 25 who received UNC offers.

2011 - Centers

Player Position/Overall Rank UNC offer? School
Andre Drummond 1/2 No UConn
Rakeem Christmas 2/21 No Syracuse
Kyle Wiltjer 3/24 No Kentucky
Adjehi Baru
4/41 Yes Charleston

2011 - Power Forwards

Player Position/Overall Rank UNC offer? School
Anthony Davis 1/1 No Kentucky
Quincy Miller 2/4 No Baylor
James Michael McAdoo 3/5 Yes North Carolina
Cody Zeller 4/13 Yes Indiana
Khem Birch 5/15 No Pitt
Jarnell Stokes 6/20 No Tennessee
Chane Behanan 7/25 Yes Louisville
Angelo Chol
10/48 Yes Arizona


2012 - Centers

Player Position/Overall Rank UNC offer? School
Nerlens Noel 1/1 No Kentucky
Isaiah Austin 2/3 No Baylor
Steven Adams 3/5 No Pitt
Kaleb Tarczewski 4/6 Yes Arizona
Grant Jerrett 5/9 No Arizona
Cameron Ridley 6/11 Yes Texas
DuJuan Coleman 7/19 No Syracuse
Tony Parker 8/20 No UCLA
Robert Carter 9/22 No Georgia Tech
Mitch McGary 10/26 Yes Michigan
Adam Woodbury 14/47 Yes Iowa
Joel James 16/51 Yes North Carolina


2012 - Power Forwards

Player Position/Overall Rank UNC offer? School
Anthony Bennett 1/8 No UNLV
Brandon Ashley 2/10 No Arizona
Amile Jefferson 3/21 No Duke
Brice Johnson 11/50 Yes North Carolina


2013 - Centers

Player Position/Overall Rank UNC offer? School
Dakari Johnson 1/17 No Kentucky
Joel Embiid 2/23 No Kansas
Marcus Lee 3/24 No Kentucky
Kennedy Meeks 8/68 Yes North Carolina

2013 - Power Forwards

Player Position/Overall Rank UNC offer? School
Julius Randle 1/2 Yes Kentucky
Aaron Gordon 2/4 No Arizona
Noah Vonleh 3/7 Yes Indiana
Chris Walker 4/8 No Florida
Bobby Portis 5/16 No Arkansas
Isaiah Hicks 6/18 Yes North Carolina
Jermaine Lawrence 7/19 No Cincinnati

Observations

1. In theory the two classes most impacted by the Wear Twins would have been 2010 and 2011. If we pretend for the moment that the Wear Twins never show up at UNC, does that means Roy Williams adds a quality big man to go along with Harrison Barnes, Reggie Bullock and Kendall Marshall? Possibly but with Henson and Zeller still there, the chances UNC snags a quality big man in 2010 are slim. That being said is there a chance UNC could have gotten a big man who was more of a project to play two years behind a pair of first round picks and who could be a senior right now? Maybe. Basically the Wears were meant to be four year players and the inability to find a four year big man in 2010 is a problem today.

As for the 2011 class, it is hard to argue with the effort. There were not many true centers in the top 25. UNC got an early commitment from James Michael McAdoo and went all-in on Cody Zeller ultimately losing in a head-to-head battle with Indiana, Zeller's home state. A 2011 commitment from the younger Zeller would have given UNC additional post depth in 2012 but unless he could play point guard, the season still ends up the way it did. The catch is Cody Zeller would have seem limited minutes and therefore not been on the NBA Draft radar as much meaning he likely sticks around for 2013. It would have also meant Desmond Hubert doesn't receive a last minute offer to provide some extra post depth for the 2012 season.

Correction: The 2011 class also included UNC offering PF Angelo Chol and C Adjehi Baru who were both outside the top 50 but two more misses that led to UNC eventually offering Hubert who was not ranked in the top 100. UNC did offer Chane Behanan who ended up at Louisville but has since been dismissed from the program.

2. Williams made big men the focus of the 2012 and boy were there a lot of them. The 2012 class had 10 true centers in the top 26 and 15 in the top 50 with Joel James ranked 51st by Scout. Williams made offers to five centers in that class and missed on four of them before getting a commitment from James. Obviously, Williams had designs on other options before taking James. There is no clear reason why UNC missed other than complicated factors laid out in the previous post on recruiting for the wing position.

On the power forward side 2012 was to power forwards what 2011 was to centers. There were limited options in the top 25 with UNC taking Brice Johnson who was 11th at that position and 50th overall. By and large Johnson looks like he is going to be a steady contributor with his defense and physical size being the areas he needs improvement on. And having a player like Johnson who is a lock for three or four years is not a bad thing assuming he develops into a well-rounded player by next season.

3. If the 2013 recruiting told us anything it was that Williams still wasn't completely satisfied with the stable of big men he had since he ended up offering three power forwards and one center. That thinking definitely stems from the belief McAdoo would either already be gone for this season or only have one more season left(and even that remains to be seen.) Williams made runs at Julius Randle, Noah Vonleh and Isaiah Hicks. Hicks was an early commitment which may have complicated matters in recruiting Vonleh and Randle. Randle, in particular, was thought to be in good standing with UNC then he inexplicably dropped the Tar Heels from his final list.

As far as true centers go, two of the three top 25 centers in 2013 ended up at Kentucky where they play a limited role. It also means UK is stockpiling talent a bit so if the Wildcats lose a crop of one and done players, they will have likely have some highly rated recruits still on the roster. Joel Embiid has blown up at Kansas and is being projected as a potential #1 pick the NBA Draft. It does not appear UNC was ever involved in recruiting him. At the end of the day UNC took Kennedy Meeks who was much higher on the recruiting boards than where he eventually landed. The reason being is Meeks sort of plateaued and there were concerns about his conditioning. The rub was he hadn't shown any commitment to getting into better shape which led to concerns it would never really happen. Obviously the jury is still out on Meeks but if Jonas Sahratian can work the same magic he has with other Tar heel players, Meeks will be just fine.

Conclusions

Unlike the wing positions where there seemed to be a shortage of solid options over the past two years, there has been plenty of big men to choose from. It also should be noted UNC has secured commitments from players who were expected to be instant contributors or would round into that over time. As it turns out none of the recent interior commitments over the past three years have necessarily had the impact people expected. McAdoo has not lived up to the top five hype he came in with and UNC is still waiting on the others to become complete players. The point is no one came in as immediate impact players or even consistent contributors. There are signs of the younger crop moving in that direction which basically means UNC the ability to reload the arsenal has been more methodical that everyone would have liked.

At this point, the stable of big men UNC has should work out fine as a core for the program over the next two seasons. The real question is how does having a two deep depth chart at center and power forward impact recruiting in 2015 and 2016. UNC's misses on elite big men led to taking commitments from players who required more development. However that also means those players will stay in the program longer and bring the open spot/playing time issues into the equation during the recruiting process. Based on the prospects list for 2015 and 2016 UNC is looking to land both wing and interior players with offers out to a big man in each class alongside wings and point guards.

UNC's recruiting has been a bit of a pendulum with the need to focus on the post then the wings. The hope is Williams can get settled into a more balanced approach over the next few years. Based on what Williams has said, the next two cycles could be one-third of the final classes he recruits as Tar Heel head coach. The point is always to bring in top players and keep the program riding high. As we move closer to that six year mark Williams has laid down as the earliest possible point he could retire, these classes also begin to serve as the foundation for a coaching transition.

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