Welcome to the Tar Heel Hangover. It’s Monday. I apologize for breaking that news to you if you thought today was “yesterday,” “today,” or “tomorrow.” I believe those are the only three days of the week right now.
The last two weeks have been eventful for the Tar Heels, especially relative to the general stagnation of sports. Cole Anthony has declared for the NBA draft, which was not even a little bit surprising. Jeremiah Francis has entered the transfer portal, which is a lot of surprising. This is the new reality of Carolina basketball in the one-and-done era.
Let’s rewind a year.
Coming off of a disappointing exit from the NCAA Tournament against a red-hot Auburn team, the absolutely loaded Tar Heels (particularly on the offensive end) entered a suddenly uncertain off-season. Nassir Little was the second or third-ranked player coming out of high school. He was widely considered to be a top pick in the NBA draft and a one-and-done college player. While it took some time for him to find his way on the court in the collegiate game, Little turned in to a dominant force of the bench and his illness played a major role in the team’s Sweet Sixteen loss.
Coby White was a bit of a different story. White was ranked in the mid-20’s out of high school and most fans viewed him as a 2-3 year player for the Heels. Instead, he proved to be an offensive force and an absolute whirl up and down the floor. With an outstanding freshman year, White exited as a lottery pick. Between White and Little, Carolina had joined the one-and-done club.
So, what have the effects been? It is easy to look at the players that left early and wonder what could have been if they stayed another year or two. It is harder to look at the downstream effects. Could Cole Anthony and Coby White have played together in a fantasy Carolina lineup? Probably. Would Seventh Woods have been a critical part of the 2019-2020 team? Definitely.
Woods was the man in South Carolina and a mid-50’s recruit coming to Carolina. He battled injuries during his Tar Heel career, but definitely showed flashes of brilliance. He finally found his shooting touch during his junior campaign, hitting nearly 42% from the field and 40% from beyond the three point line. His points were limited, but his nearly 11 minutes per game were crucial to give White some rest.
What might he have been last year? As a senior and a healthy athlete, Woods could have stepped in to the injury void and led the team. In desperate need of a backup point guard that could drive the offensive, make key shots, and get the ball inside, Carolina needed Woods. Instead, he had transferred to South Carolina.
This is the sometimes lost effect of phenomenal players in college basketball. Woods, who had put his time in on the bench, was not ready to play second fiddle to another freshman star. No one can blame him. Woods likely saw himself as a future starter when he was recruited but it is difficult to contemplate a fourth year as a reserve. As it turns out, he was a key missing piece for the team.
So where does Jeremiah Francis fit in that puzzle? While fans do not know the reason for Francis’ decision to enter the transfer portal, what is likely is that Carolina will lose its backup point guard to transfer two years in a row. Francis saw his first action against Virginia in December and from there played increasing minutes for the next several weeks. In Cole Anthony’s absence, Francis played 16 minutes against Wofford, 23 against Gonzaga, 28 versus UCLA, 27 versus Yale, 27 against Georgia Tech, and 24 against Pitt. Then came the injury rest, a couple of games off the bench, then February.
As good as Francis looked and as much as the Heels needed him, the last six weeks were a wind down. Francis hit double-digit minutes only once the rest of the way in; the final game against Syracuse. It seemed probable that the strain of major college basketball was difficult for the still-recovering Francis.
With a great recruiting class coming in, including a probable starting freshman point guard, the presumptive backup is once again on the road. Great recruiting classes are both a gift and a penalty. Incoming raw talent always wins in July and August. Total teams win in March. That includes the 10 minutes needed from the second string point guard.
Best of luck to Seventh Woods who will get on the court this year and Jeremiah Francis who will play next year. Their transfers are a result of the totality of their circumstances. The reality for those that remain is that someone needs to step up as a ball handler, again. Hopefully, that’s without the need to start due to injury.
Stay safe. Wash your hands and don’t touch your face.