With enough talent to defy the dynamic of college basketball, North Carolina's Roy Williams should have the country's easiest coaching job next season.
He could also have the toughest.
When Williams and his school's fans recently learned that Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington and Danny Green had withdrawn from the NBA Draft pool, there was jubilation. The Tar Heels, who won 36 times in 2007-08, instantly were anointed as an overwhelming favorite to win the 2009 NCAA title.
But Carolina has been there before. Remember 1983 and 1984? What about '86, '87, '94, '98 and 2001?
All of those teams started with the highest expectations only to fall short of the ultimate goal. Some encountered injuries. One or two flunked chemistry.
Wow it did not take him long to invoke the memories of highly touted UNC teams past in discussing the upcoming season. Yes, UNC has had past teams stacked and a cut above every other team in the country. And unfortunately many of them have fallen short. I tend to view this as the nature of the college basketball beast. If, for example, you had teams winning the title many times over and UNC was falling short that would be one thing. However, there are not national title dynasties in college basketball. UNC equals Duke, Kentucky and Indiana as teams winning three national titles since the UCLA Wooden Dynasty, the last in college basketball. Running the NCAA Tournament table is difficult so if this team falls short it will be a disappointment but not all that surprising at the same time.
Look at it this way. During any given NCAA Tournament the odds of winning the title for the #1 seeds is about 25-30%. When you talk about UNC being the odds on favorite(and Vegas has them at 2-1) you are basically giving UNC roughly a 10% better chance of winning the title than the next best team out there. And that is right now nine months ahead of the tournament. So UNC is a favorite but only by a fairly small percentage.
The '94 team, for example, began No. 1. It finished 28-7 after a second-round NCAA loss to Boston College. Along the way, senior Brian Reese griped about a loss of playing time to hotshot freshmen.
The '84 Tar Heels went 28-3 and were ranked No. 1 most of the way. They stumbled in their second-round NCAA outing against Indiana, which in turn was eliminated by a Virginia team that wound up 21-12 overall and was 6-8 in the ACC regular season.
That night in Atlanta, Michael Jordan took off his Carolina jersey for what would be the final time and said, "In this sport, nobody gets a guarantee."
If Dean Smith could lose with Jordan, Sam Perkins and Brad Daugherty, it's not a lock that Lawson, Ellington, Green, Tyler Hansbrough, Marcus Ginyard and Deon Thompson are enough to guarantee Williams a title.
There are basically two teams in the past 30 years I still wonder how they did not win the title and that was 1984 and 1987. The injury to Kenny Smith did 1984, that and the fact the Heels were essentially snakebit versus Indiana in the Sweet Sixteen. The 1987 team is a mystery and probably bears the closest resemblance to this team in terms of talent and experience. However, that loss of the NCAA Tournament was marked with Jeff Lebo being sick. Invoking 1994 is not analogous given the loss of George Lynch from the previous season. And yes there were chemistry issues with the influx of Rasheed Wallace and Jerry Stackhouse.
I maintain this team is set up differently than even the 1987 team. Almost all of the offense returning is with a group juniors and seniors. The mix of experience and talent is tremendous and I would point out that one huge difference between now and all those teams in the past is the NBA defections are more prevalent. It is rare, if not unheard of, to return this kind of personnel and compared to everyone else, no one has a group of juniors and seniors that won 36 games and went to the Final Four.
The biggest hurdle could be focus for Lawson, Ellington and Green. All wanted to move up and out after last season, which ended with a staggering Final Four loss to Kansas.
If those three see a national championship as little more than a door prize to spots on NBA rosters, it'll soon be Roy vs. the Volcano. Green's father, Danny Sr., says that possibility is out of the question.
"No way whatsoever," Green Sr. said. "These are good kids. They'll be as coachable as anyone could ask for. Their attitudes will be fine. That part of it will be better than ever. Besides, you're talking about Roy Williams. What are these guys going to do? Not listen to him?"
Danny Green, Sr. just blew my mind there given the point was cogent and spot on.
Compared to Smith, who almost never lost his cool and religiously used diplomacy, Williams can erupt when he's unhappy about things. Land in Williams' doghouse, and you'll sit on the bench until dry-rot develops.
"Coach don't put up with much mess," Quentin Thomas, an '08 senior, said midway through last season.
Odds are Williams will get everyone's mind right by the middle of October. There'll be some locker-room squabbling. There always is, even among the most close-knit teams. But for fear of having to run a mile or two after practice -- if nothing else -- these players likely will not let private agendas get in the way.
What's funny is Tudor raises the "these guys will be selfishly pursuing their own agendas and screw the team" that the media will beat us over the head with for the next 10 months and then basically shoots it down using Green, Sr. in the process. I made this point in a previous post and that is any attempt to work outside the system will result in less playing time. Less playing time leaves a smaller body of work to impress NBA scouts. The best option for these three players is to fall in line and win a national title, especially in Lawson's case. I was discussing this with a friend and he pointed out that NBA teams like PGs who win much the same way you like a QB who can win in football. Roy Williams' ability to handle players and a team with this much depth cannot be underestimated especially in light of the work he did with the 2005 team.
There will be other challenges, starting as usual with Plan B for the offense. Carolina is such an inside-oriented team that perimeter shooting against quality opponents can be a problem.
Ellington can hit jumpers. But if you think he's another Stephon Curry, you're looking at the wrong portion of the Piedmont. Green can shoot, too, but he's streaky. Recruits Ed Davis and Larry Drew will arrive with imposing resumes, but they're going to spend most of their first seasons lugging around the upperclassmen's travel bags.
For all of this talent, experience and depth, history usually doesn't lie. If opponents can disrupt Hansbrough, the Heels are beatable.
Ultimately, however, there is the burden of being the heavy favorite going in.
Williams won it all in 2005 and may yet surpass Smith's 879-win total, but he's lost with full-house hands before. He's just never been at his best with a big target on his back. It was the one -- the only -- rap against Williams during 15 otherwise glorious seasons at Kansas. And when you have no choice but to keep one eye focused on Mike Krzyzewski, it's easy to get distracted.
Don't get me wrong. I'm picking Carolina, too. But make no mistake, this is no sure thing.
I do not understand why the defense is ignored. If they learn how to play good defense, then the offense will be fine. Besides that, the focus on the outside shooting tends to forget the fact the three point line is moving back and perimeter offense in general may not be nearly as important. That being said, Ellington and Green improved immensely from the previous season and I expect the same this season which means they might be downright deadly on a consistent basis. I also would not overlook Zeller and Davis either. Davis in particular could be very important in terms of interior defense if he pans out to be a good shot blocker.
Honestly I think this is all overwrought. Negativity is the currency of most analysis with the first reaction to UNC's pending reign atop the preseason polls is to point out how so many UNC teams in the past failed. No one ever points out how this team is similar to 1993 with veteran player including a senior in George Lynch who was determined to win the national title at all costs. There is also the aforementioned 2005 team which bears a striking resemblance to this squad in terms of both experience and talent. This team has all the parts, they have the coach and as much as we talk about the returning three completing the puzzle, this team will return the reigning NPOY in Tyler Hansbrough who, with a ring, could be considered the greatest Tar Heel ever. If the rest of the teams gets on board with Hansbrough drive to a national title, the focus and execution will be just fine.