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The Debate: Has a new era of basketball dawned in Chapel Hill?

With such an incredible level of player turnover, next year will be very different.

NCAA Basketball: Duke at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, The Debate kicked off by asking was the 2018-19 basketball season a success? Readers left a lot of great comments and it seems that in general, fans considered it to be a pretty good season with a disappointing ending.

As always, readers are encouraged to join in through the comments and point out what we got right, what we got wrong, and what we never thought of. Also, please feel free to provide suggestions for future topics so we can cover what interests readers and what information is needed to ensure victory when debating slow-witted friends who don’t read the articles! Now, on with the show.

The Debate for the week of April 22: Have we just witnessed the dawning of a new era of Carolina basketball.

Point: Unfortunately, we have.

Just over a year ago, the Friday Food for Thought article took a look at this precise question in the aftermath of an early exit from the NCAA Tournament. Here we are again in 2019 under similar circumstances. The biggest difference is that last year the Heels lost two starters. This year, they are losing four and a big force off the bench.

First, some level setting. From this point of view, Roy Williams has had three eras so far as the head coach at North Carolina. The first era was the carry-over from Matt Doherty. It was a short two-year run that returned the school to prominence that culminated with a National Championship in 2005. Following the win, the departures of Jackie Manuel, Jawad Williams, Melvin Scott, Raymond Felton, Rashad McCants, Sean May, and Marvin Williams signaled a turning point. The break in the roster was also the end of a tumultuous era.

The second period, then, started the following year with the arrivals of Bobby Frasor, Danny Green, Marcus Ginyard, and Tyler Hansbrough, a group totally recruited by Roy Williams. That group embarked on a four-year rise from second round, to elite eight, to Final Four, to 2009 National Champions. Once again, a mass exodus marked the end of an era. Ginyard earned a medical redshirt year but Frasor, Green, and Hansbrough all graduated along with the exits of Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington. There was certainly talent returning, but it was the end of an era.

The third era has likely just ended. The last 10 years have been a time of rotating talent with more limited early departures, with continuous carryover from year to year. Sure, there was the exodus of Marshall/Henson/Barnes/Zeller, but Reggie Bullock, Leslie McDonald, and James Michael McAdoo were there to bridge the gap between the 2012 team and what we’ll call the Marcus Paige Experience. There have been holes to fill from year to year, but the program has had a stunning four year run with an upper-classman preseason All American. It has not felt like the Heels were rebuilding or reloading, they were simply advancing. This time has been marked by the continued development of talent and student athletes who have stayed long enough to love. This era is longer than any one class and bigger than a single championship. And it is now over.

Luke Maye, Kenny Williams, and Cameron Johnson are all graduating. That is 10 years of combined experience on the hardcourt for Carolina. Coby White and Nassir Little have declared for the NBA draft after their freshman seasons. From a contribution standpoint, this is the largest loss of talent under Roy Williams ever in a non-championship season.

Last season presented as a great mix of one-and done players with veteran leadership. It is a perfect setup, but by definition cannot be a regular occurrence. It just takes time for the stars of past years to be joined with the stars of today. Whether this is the beginning of a series of seasons that rely on short term players of the start of a long-term rebuild, either way, it is the beginning of something new. It is the start of a new era of Carolina basketball under Roy Williams.

Counterpoint: Although 2019 will be different, it is the same era of success.

Defining eras in college basketball should not about the players, because. All players move on at some point. It doesn’t signal a complete overhaul for the program every time the roster turns. Instead, an era under a single coach ends when a complete rebuild begins. That will not be the situation in Chapel Hill.

In fact, next year could look more like the prototypical Tar Heels than did last season. Garrison Brooks will be back to anchor the Carolina interior. Sterling Manley, hopefully healthy, will have a chance to star in increased minutes. A defense-minded interior will replace the outside-in offensive focus from this past year. Leaky Black showed flashes of solid play during his injury-shortened first season and he could be the prototypical glue guy in the mold of a Ginyard or Pinson. Brandon Robinson has improved year after year and could be a factor on the perimeter in his senior season after playing behind super-talented wing lineups for his first three. In other words, just like in past years, UNC’s success will be very reliant on the returning players and their improvements, despite the new blood Roy Williams is hoping to add. Ideally, not much changes in terms of how this year’s team was constructed and how next year’s will look.

There is certainly still a lot in the air when it comes to 2019 recruiting. But where some might see concern, you may see opportunities to fill out the roster and garner playing time. Incoming freshmen (and/or graduate transfers) will have the same chance to lead and succeed that freshmen have always had under Roy Williams. In a true one-and-done factory, the freshmen are predetermined to start regardless of how their game translates to the collegiate level. They occupy spots but don’t necessarily develop. Coach Williams’ system serves to foster consistent and continued improvement. That will be true next year as well.

Most importantly, the team will likely be very good again. The 2006 team was much better than expected, but flamed out in the NCAA Tournament (albeit to a Cinderella Final 4 team), scraping by 14th-seeded Murray State before losing to 11th-seed George Mason, who went to the Final Four. The 2010 team... let’s not. This upcoming season, though, many of the very early preseason prognostications have Carolina somewhere in the top 10. How can an era end and a new one begin without anything resembling a transition?

Time for you to decide! Is this a new era or just an evolving roster in the vein of what we’ve consistently seen this decade? Weigh in below!