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As Bad As It Gets

If you heard Roy Williams' press conference following the loss to Virginia it was clear that he sounded like a man who was beaten and weary. After another inexplicable piss-poor effort from his team Roy had all the markings of a man who had tossed everything but the kitchen sink at this team only to see them regress. In Monday's ACC conference call Roy basically said he was at the end of his rope.

It’s the total practice. The day before, we go crazy about not getting great defensive balance, but last night in the game, we didn’t have defensive balance. We’ve had 61 practices now, and the things I’ve preached the previous 21 years seemed to work, and the things I preach this year that are the same as those 21 haven’t worked. So I’ve got to find a different way to do it; find something different. I think every year, you make different changes. Some of them subtle, some of them bigger changes. We’re not runnin the ball like I like to run it. We’re playing zone, we’ve changed three or four different offenses that we’ve tried to use, rather than sticking with one that I’ve done most of my career. Right now, it hasn’t worked as well as we’d like for it to work. I’m at my wit’s end, but at the same time, I still have to keep trying to thing of something; I still have to keep working, and I still have to make sure they keep working. If not, we don’t have any chance whatsoever. So we’re going to twink around with it a little bit, and see if we can change a few other things, and get kids to buy into it a little more, and take it from the practice court to game night.

And therein lies part of the problem. For a wildly successful, national championship winning coach there is a system in place.  Recruiting revolves around fitting players into that system.  Obviously one class of players is not a carbon copy of the classes prior so minor adjustments need to be made but for the most part the system is the same from year to year.  Secondary to that, most of the time Roy goes a fairly good job of getting the players into that system and executing that efficiently. There is some learning curve with a young team but with enough experienced players Tar Heel teams usually function well enough to win.  With those two pieced in place you add the final element which is effort, desire, heart, whatever you want to call it.  Reliably over the years players wearing NORTH CAROLINA on their chest bring those intangibles to the floor so even if the execution is not there or the learning curve is still overwhelming them the effort compensates to a certain point.

So what is happening this season? None of the above.  For whatever reason the players are not fitting into the system, have not put themselves on the same page as their coach and at times play with zero gusto. As Roy said, it is about as bad as it could possibly be at the moment. He is at wit's end because what else can he do.  When a coach has been as successful as Roy has for 20 years, simply changing the system is undoubtedly an arduous task.  Not to mention, there are not many practices available to install new offensive or defensive sets.  Exasperating that issue is the fact UNC made it through the first two months in decent shape.  Yes, there were losses and hiccups but wins over Ohio St and Michigan St, along with a nice rally in the 2nd half versus Kentucky gave the now apparent false sense that this team would be okay.  And I am not so sure it might not have been okay had the injury bug not fell so many players.  The injury to Marcus Ginyard who was somewhat reliable on offense during the first ten games left him a shell of his November/December self. Tyler Zeller's loss put immense pressure on Ed Davis and Deon Thompson to perform. Players here and there missing games proved to be counterproductive for the gelling of a team during a crucial point in the season.

The point is, as much as Roy is responsible for how this has gone there are limitations.  As stated above, Roy, like any other coach has a system and that system is only tweaked from season to season.  Having that system is predicated on players fitting into it.  When that does not happen it is difficult for any coach to simply reinvent the wheel midseason.  First of all he is changing two decades worth of coaching on a dime.  Secondly the players have to learn it.  If they did not learn the first system well, chances are learning something new on the fly is going to be problematic as well.  Roy has indicated any number of times that he asks for one play or one specific action and he gets the opposite.  I'm sorry but no matter how good the coach is, if the players do not listen then there is not much he can do.

Now, Roy is not absolved of blame.  By his own admission, his loyalty tends to make him stubborn about pulling a certain player. His focus on doing things a certain way makes him slower to adjust some parts he could adjust if he was so inclined.  Slowing the tempo down or using timeouts more often or deploying a zone on defense are all items that can be adjust by Roy but for some reason he chooses not to.  However, I am not sure it matters what Roy does or doesn't do given the players themselves do not seem to really give a crap. One point Roy made Monday night on his radio show is he is not accustomed to coaching effort. Some practice time has been wasted on pushing player on issues of focus and effort.  Players trying should not be something the coach has to worry about but with this team it has served as a serious impediment. If the effort, desire and heart are missing then the players' ownership of the way the team players or even their willingness to learn the system is duly compromised.  If the players are doing their job in practice then many of the basic things are handled by them in games with the coach adjusting for the conditions of the contest.  Unfortunately, Roy is not even able to do that because rudimentary things like effort and attention to detail are lost leaving Roy struggling to get even basic execution out of the unit on the floor.

The bottom line here I did not come necessarily to praise Roy but I also did not come to bury him either.  I am coming to his defense a little because I think so much of this team's performance lies with the players themselves hampered greatly by injuries. I do think the rotation is a mess and some semblance of balance in that regard might help some of these guys find a niche not to mention a focal point.  The problem with a fan's belief that Player A should get more floor time than Player B is we still are missing vital information. We don't see practice, in-depth stat analysis nor do we have a full grasp of the larger process Roy is looking at.  Fans see on the court performance.  Coaches are tasked with painting a much larger picture. For Roy it is about the process and do what you are supposed to do regardless of what the scoreboard says. For fans it is watching the game, often times once and glancing at a box score.  In that respect we are simplistic in our view of the how Roy should handle the personnel which is both good and bad.  It is bad since our conclusions are incomplete but good in that the results to trump all other things in most cases.

And that, my friends is the crossroads Roy is at.  The results are not there and now Roy is in the unenviable position of attempting to counter the weight of a 2-4 ACC mark with ten regular season games left.  The system is obviously broken both in technical terms and  intangibles ones as well. Roy's responsibility is to the technical aspects first and training the players to execute the offense correctly.  The intangibles are in the players' court.  Roy can only prod them so much. At some point they have to commit to own this team, represent the jersey and do more walking than talking. Roy has to realize what is not working and change it regardless of how much it might go against what he believes in.  Quite simply, the desperation has set in. With two roads games this week it is possible a 13-10 and 2-6 ACC team takes the floor versus Duke. And regardless of how we might want to divide the blame up, at the end of the day this team had to come together, players and coaches like, and put more care into this season than they have thus far.