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Managing Expectations

And yes, we all suck at it.


Fans have them, mostly fueled by the media but at the same time fueled by our own insatiable desire to see our team win. Depending on your team and their relative position in the college basketball word that desire can mean winning six straight games makes your day or six straight NCAA Tournament games is the standard. UNC fans live on the latter plane, most other fan bases the former. Yes, that probably sounds arrogant as does pointing out that it is probably a blessing and a curse for which we will be offered zero sympathy from anyone. However, it is the way of things for a program as high successful as UNC has been.

This season thus far has been difficult which may have more to do with the previous five years than it does the one we are in right now. UNC fans have spent the last five years watching perhaps the greatest stretch of Tar Heel basketball ever. We watched Roy Williams win a title in his 2nd season back in Chapel Hill then reload and perform the same trick again. The span include watching arguably the greatest Tar Heel player of all time in Tyler Hansbrough. Ty Lawson put together perhaps the finest season ever played by a UNC point guard. Wayne Ellington and Danny Green rained threes and humiliated opponents and for the last two years the Tar Heel offense was an absolute work of art. It was a thing of beauty to watch to the point grown men get a little misty eye thinking about. It was a five year span bookended by national titles, the last of which capped off a storybook run by a beloved core group.

All that winning.

All that beautifully executed, high flying, points in buckets basketball.

All of it painfully absent now.

And there lies the issue most of us have. Having been accustomed to watching one caliber of basketball being played in Tar Heel blue we are finding it difficult to watch what can charitably be described as the polar opposite. Maybe its just plain old withdrawal or maybe we just expect too much. Yeah some of this crap is utterly inexplicable, especially coming from the seniors. On one hand if Roy ran the freshman out there with Larry Drew, Tyler Zeller and Ed Davis I am willing to wager most of us would be far more forgiving of the bevy of mistakes we seen seemly every game. However the presence of upperclassmen like Deon Thompson and Marcus Ginyard has tuned us to a slightly higher expectation level we might have otherwise. That and the success of 2006 leads us to believe this team should be better. Since they are not, the frustration level is like a rising river at flood stage. Like 2006 we thought the play of the seniors along with Will Graves would counterbalance the inexperience of the freshman. At some point the team would gel, reel of a nice winning streak and put themselves in a nice position for the NCAA Tournament. Unfortunately that has is nowhere near the case nor is there much sign it will be any time soon.

From where I sit, the freshman have been as good as we can expect from them. The sophomores are probably a little under expectation and the upperclassmen save some good stretches from Will Graves have been awful. That is where things have really broken down for this team. In 2006, had David Noel, Reyshawn Terry and Wes Miller played like Ginyard and Thompson, 2006 might have gone down the same path. Granted the presence of Tyler Hansbrough had a major impact which probably made it easier for Noel but still it would have been a rough ride. This season the lack of serious production from the upperclassmen is hurting. Yes, there is talent among the freshman and sophomores. At some point those guys are going to come to fruition. However, it is clear after seventeen games this team is broken from the top down.

It is sometimes easy to forget that the 2009 title team was built over the course of two seasons. The high school class of 2005 was only one piece of the puzzle. The rest of that team was completed with the arrival of Lawson, Ellington and Thompson. Looking at this present group of freshman and the incoming recruits for next season, it appears Roy has the same plan in motion again. Next season, like 2007 will mark the arrival of at least three highly touted freshmen who will play alongside a group of talented sophomores and juniors. If Roy can manage to keep much of the core of that team around at least two seasons, UNC could easily get back on track. Granted that is small comfort this season. When you compare this team to the 2006 version this one appears woefully behind in development. Obviously different players and personalities play into that. The dynamics are simply not the same which most fans did not account for in making the assumption Roy would simply repeat the magic of four years ago. The learning curve has been far steeper which may have something to do with the play of the seniors.

At the end of the day, the big picture might ultimately rule the day. As much as we want to be loyal to Ginyard and Thompson, the program takes priority. Giving the freshman, who were really the only ones who showed signs of life on Wednesday at Clemson, a bulk of the opportunity may pay the greatest dividends in this season and the next one. At least as a starting point, consideration should be given to benching players who are not getting the job done in favor of ones who show great potential. That sort of move might be enough to jar Ginyard or Thompson out of whatever unfocused funk they are in now.

For now, the best thing we can do is ride this storm out. It is not going to be pretty and at the end of the season we may be wholly displeased with how things wrap up. Or things will turn around and we will all look like idiots for being Chicken Littles. Whatever the case I think the program will be just fine going forward even if the egg breaking part of the omelet making makes us all queasy right now. Since that is the case the best move we can all make it to temper out outlook because being overtly upset really does not accomplish much except frighten our loved ones.

Despite the mess so far, I honestly believe it will all be okay eventually even if getting there is a painful process.