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Does UNC Have Enough Talent?

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An interesting premise was postulated by Andrew Jones writing for Inside Carolina.

That brings up another problem few have discussed: Carolina isn’t that talented.

According to Scout.com, Marcus Ginyard was rated the 52nd best player in his recruiting class while Deon Thompson was No. 36, Will Graves No. 79, Larry Drew No. 68, Dexter Strickland No. 33, Leslie McDonald No. 53, and the Wears were Nos. 55 and 56.

Davis was No. 10, Zeller No. 21, John Henson No. 4, and they combined for nine minutes against Wake. Even still, this performance wasn’t about not having Davis and Zeller, as they have also underachieved, especially in recent weeks.

This is why a turnaround must be a collective deal. The 1997 team started out 0-3 in the ACC and last year’s squad was 0-2, but there are no Antawn Jamisons, Vince Carters, Tyler Hansbroughs or Ty Lawsons on this year’s roster.

And that is Carolina’s reality.

Now the first problem with Jones' assertion is the glaring lack of a qualifier. The statement "UNC lacks talent" is far too broad. The question is less talented compared to who? Other teams in the ACC? Past UNC teams? The 2007-09 juggernaut? 2006? 2004? The list goes on. For the sake of argument here I decided to compare this team to the 2006 squad since the circumstances i.e. a post title year are the same. Here are those two teams and the recruiting rankings.

[table id=18/]

Based on these numbers then you can argue the present team outstrips the 2006 team fairly easily. 2006 had one elite player, one very good player, a bevy of middle of the pack four star guys and two walk-ons. This team has player ranked 79th and up with three of them in the top 30, two of them top ten. In that respect this team has more talent, if you rely on the rankings as your sole source of evaluation. In some ways that is not the best measure since such rankings are almost a raw evaluation of a player's skill sets as compared to his peers. Those evaluations are made in a myriad of different environments versus varying levels of competition. Now basketball rankings for high school kids are usually pretty good compared to say football, but they are not perfect as Josh McRoberts has long proven.

However, sticking with the rankings for a moment it is important to realize how "talent" is defined. For one, players being ranked against their high school peers obviously speaks to their talent as individual player as well as their abilities to do certain things at the prep/AAU level. It does not speak to how those players and their skills might fit into a team on the college level. In other words, the better way to phrase UNC's situation is not so much that they lack "talent" as defined by the rankings but rather they lack "talent" of the right kind or in the right spots. For example, based on the rankings you could say that Tyler Hansbrough and Ed Davis are the same caliber player. In fact one could argue that Davis is actually a better player in terms of "talent" but ultimately both players have different strengths. Now think about UNC's current situation and the manner in which they have lost so many games. Besides the turnovers, what is the chief complaint? UNC's lack of post physicality despite having "talented" big men. To take it further, ask yourself how the Wake Forest or Georgia Tech or even Texas game may have been if Hansbrough had been on the interior? Speculatively speaking, very different since Hansbrough would have brought a physical presence in the post. Davis does not bring that despite being rated on paper as nearly the same talent as Hansbrough. Likewise, while David Noel and Reyshawn Terry may not have been as highly rated(or rated at all) as players on the current team, I would argue they might be more athletic and better defenders. Wes Miller, using his 2006 stats, is a far better three point shooter than anyone UNC has right now and was also a good defender. The bottom line in 2006 the talent was able to mesh as a team whereas the same has not been true so far for the current versions of the Heels.

The other way this premise is probably more accurate is to point out that UNC lacks talent at certain positions as compared to even 2006. The point guard slot is presently being manned by the lowest rated PG of the Roy Williams era. Larry Drew was 68th overall in his class. That is well below Quentin Thomas' 40th, Bobby Frasor's 41st and of course Raymond Felton and Ty Lawson were top five. As shooting guard, UNC has had Wayne Ellington and Rashad McCants, both top ten players. In 2006 they got by with Wes Miller who ended up being a very good shooter percentage wise. Using the available measures it is easy to point to that one position as being extremely deficient compared to past Tar Heel teams or at the very best needing more time to truly develop. One example this kind of player was on display versus UNC on Wednesday night. Wake Forest's Ishmael Smith was the 92nd ranked player in the class of 2006 but looked far better against the Heels than that. That could very well be the case with Drew who is in his first season of full time duty and like Quentin Thomas may simply have the light come on at some point. On the flipside of that you have players who seemingly stagnate in development whether it be due to injury or the fact they basically peaked in high school. Many UNC fans are ready to toss Marcus Ginyard and Deon Thompson into this category since the difference between their level of play now versus 3-4 years ago seems rather small. Compare them to Noel and Terry who made significant leaps in development despite being lower rated.

What does this all mean? It basically means, UNC has a ton of developing to do. It also means the players, in the current stages of development might not be the best fit for the Roy Williams' system as presently constituted. There is also an apparent lack of leadership which is not really taken into account in recruit rankings but was a part of the preseason formulation for this team's success. The senior leaders on this Tar Heel team have been notably absent from the media postgame reports and I find it slightly disturbing that a freshman is the one saying the current level of play is unacceptable for a North Carolina team. Last season when things looked bad following the 0-2 start, Danny Green talked to the media at practice in an effort to strike a cord. Why Ginyard or Thompson are not doing this is a mystery which leads to a point where Jones was absolutely correct. Roy Williams, at some point, needs to step into the void.

Somewhat true, but the problem facing UNC is going to require a complete understanding of what is going wrong. And while the onus is on the players to get it right, it’s also on the coaches to recognize what just doesn’t work with this team.

Everyone is accountable, which is why the leadership must first start with Williams. He handled the role briefly during the 2006 season when David Noel went through a rough stretch in late January, and he can certainly do it again.

The coach says there’s no potion he can pour on the players to turn things around, but he does have a Hall of Fame career to draw from, even if there aren’t many scenarios like this on his resume.

Roy Williams can be stubborn and his insistence on maintaining the system used for the past three years may be doing more harm than good. As Jones points out UNC needs to get better in the halfcourt offense while listening to the coaches more on defense. More than that, I think Roy has to find a way to connect with this team. In 2006, there were constant references to how that team "bought into" everything the coaches told them. There was an obvious connection between the head coach and the players aided by Noel leadership but also Hansbrough's work ethic. That does not appear to be the case here. We can talk about talent and rankings all we want but anyone who has watched college basketball knows there are far less talented teams out there winning basketball games because everyone has settled into a role and is doing their job. Right now it appears everyone is unsure of themselves, their place on the team and what they should do at any given time on the court. Couple that with a lack of effort at times you have the perfect recipe for a team that is just not going to do very much in the way of winning this season.

To answer the original question, yes the talent is there to make the NCAA Tournament and be a good team. However, it has to be molded and fitted together to form a solid team that can perform on the court in concert. It is up to the players to get on the same page with the coaches and bring it every game. It is up to the coaches to make the best use of the strengths in order to compensate for the weaknesses. The Heels have a six day break before playing NC State. Hopefully the light will come on next Tuesday in Raleigh.