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Athlon Ranks Roy Williams 5th Best Coach...in the ACC

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A Hall of Fame coach with 724 wins and 2 national titles isn't even in the top 25% of coaches in his own league, according to a new list.

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Via Bob Berghaus of the Asheville Citizen-Times, you can add Athlon Sports to those who do not think highly of Roy Williams' work. In a recent piece by David Fox, the Hall of Fame coach was ranked as just the 5th best in the ACC. Berghaus writes:

Following the 2009 season, if a story had been written about the best basketball coaches in the ACC, it would have been odd not to have Roy Williams ranked No. 1.

During a five-year stretch beginning in 2005, Williams, the WNC native who attended Roberson High and coached at Owen, guided North Carolina to three Final Fours and two national titles. He was hot and the college hoops world knew it.

Not any longer.

Somehow during the last couple of years, Williams went from being a really good coach to just another guy in the eyes of some people, if you look at the ranking of ACC basketball coaches by Athlon Sports.

Williams didn’t even make the top four in the 15-team league.

As Berghaus observes, it's tough to rank coaches when there are four Hall of Famers in one league. Duke's Mike Krzyzewski rightfully occupies the top spot, and then you could probably put Williams, Louisville's Rick Pitino, and Syracuse's Jim Boeheim in pretty much any order, although the overall lack of success at the NCAA level long-term compared to his peers probably grades Boeheim down a little bit.

No, the ignominy for Williams in this listing comes in being ranked behind Virginia's Tony Bennett, he of the 5-4 career NCAA record and general purveyor of 1940s-era basketball. The 2014 Cavaliers swept the ACC regular season and tournament and vaulted Bennett to Next Big Thing(TM) status. Never mind the next six coaches in the Athlon list all have better winning percentages at their school than Bennett's .639.

There is no doubt UVA has been on a steady track of improvement under Bennett, but Cox's rationale for ranking him ahead of Williams is that "schools like Virginia and Miami have been closer to Carolina territory than Carolina during the last two seasons." That's a somewhat specious argument given that Miami's 2013 season was clearly a senior-laden team catching lightning in a bottle and regressing to the mean in 2014. Virginia, on the other hand, has been on a track of moving up the ACC ladder and does, for the past two seasons, have numbers comparable to, or better than, Carolina, particularly in ACC play. Over the past two seasons, Virginia has been 48-18 overall, 27-9 in the ACC, with a 4th place and 1st place regular season finish.  They lost in the 2013 ACC Tournament quarterfinals but won the 2014 tourney, then going 2-1 in the NCAA tournament in 2014 after only making the NIT in 2013. Meanwhile UNC has gone 49-21 overall, 25-11 in the ACC, placing 3rd both seasons. Carolina lost in the ACC Tournament finals in 2013 and in the quarterfinals in 2014, followed by a 2-2 record in the NCAA. So by those measures, Virginia has been slightly ahead of UNC in the last two years.

The problem with Cox's argument, however, is that not only has Virginia been in Carolina territory over that span, they have also been in Duke territory as well. Duke has gone 56-15 in the regular season and 27-9 in the ACC, with a 2nd and 3rd place regular season finish. They have lost in the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament as well as in the finals to Virginia in 2014. Duke also has a 3-2 record in the NCAA tournament, with an Elite Eight balanced with their second first-round loss. In other words, Virginia's record in ACC and NCAA play is just as sparkling as Duke's over the past two years, but you don't see Cox ranking Bennett ahead of Krzyzewski. (And you will notice, for what it's worth, that UNC is only two games behind Duke in ACC play over two years with an identical ACCT record).

Clearly Williams is battling a perception problem that is not entirely backed up by the numbers. Berghaus points out how impressive UNC's run was from 2004-2009; in the five years since, the Tar Heels have faced a spate of issues that would make Murphy re-examine his law. Injuries, transfers, early season struggles, NBA defections, and basketball being caught up in the general malaise surrounding UNC athletics before being directly pulled in by Rashad McCants this summer have taken the shine off the Carolina brand. And yet, those who know basketball and follow the team would argue that Roy Williams has done some of his best pure coaching the past 3 or 4 years. Over the past four seasons, Duke and UNC have identical 53-15 ACC records, though Duke is slightly ahead in overall record, 115-27 to 110-35. Yet the perception is that UNC has fallen significantly behind Duke, a perception which is exacerbated by the arrival of Louisville and Syracuse.

Ol' Roy can't seem to win in these kinds of rankings. When his teams were on top, he was rated as the nation's most overrated coach. When he keeps the program on track after the 2010 debacle and myriad internal and external issues, he's dinged for UNC's great unpleasantness. Of course there's one solution: just win, baby.