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The Debate: Getting excited about UNC Basketball again

Are Carolina fans missing what should be the most exciting off-season in decades?

NCAA Men’s Final Four - Practice Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Welcome to The Debate. Each week, this article presents a topic for discussion. Whether in the comments section, on the golf course, or around the weekend game table (with proper social distancing of course), the goal is to provide enough background that either side could be a winner. In order to facilitate the discourse, a suggested beverage pairing is also included. So speak up, mix it up, and drink up.

Regular readers of this article know that I enjoy looking at the big picture of Carolina basketball, especially during the off-season. Two years ago, The Debate questioned whether a new era of college basketball had begun for the Heels. Joel Berry II and Theo Pinson had just completed their long and successful careers and it felt like a time of transition.

Last year, The Debate revisited the question in a slightly different way, asking if the one-and-done era was now fully embraced by Carolina. Coby White and Nassir Little had just completed their one and only season in Chapel Hill. They, along with departing seniors Luke Maye, Cameron Johnson, and Kenny Williams, made a lot of room for new players (side note, how hard is it to believe that those three just graduated a year ago?). The incoming class, however, looked great with a top three recruit in Cole Anthony, another possible one-and-done in Armando Bacot, and a couple of highly coveted grad transfers in Christian Keeling and Justin Pierce. Even the injured Jeremiah Francis and Anthony Harris provided hope for surprises.

We all know how that turned out.

Keeling and Pierce have now graduated, along with Brandon Robinson. Cole Anthony has left for the NBA draft. Brandon Huffman and Francis have both transferred.

While I am not ready to declare the incoming class as the start of a new era, it is certainly an exciting time. The question is, could this be the most exciting off-season under Roy Williams?

The Debate for the week of August 22: What was/is the most exciting off-season of the Roy Williams era?

Point: The opportunity to get back on the winning path makes this year the most exciting.

College basketball ended too abruptly in March. That is true for both the game as a whole and the Tar Heels specifically. The year was filled with injuries and heartbreaks. It was nothing short of devastating for Carolina fans. The way the season ended was devastating for college basketball fans.

We have all had the whole summer, at home, to stew over last season (or perhaps to try and block it out). Pandemic aside, however, last year was particularly frustrating for the Heels. It was the only losing season under Roy Williams and only the third losing season since 1961. That was Dean Smith’s first year as head coach and his only losing season (8-9).

Under Coach Williams, down seasons have always been infused with the hope of next year. That is what great recruiting can do for a team and what a coach who develops talent over the long term can do for a program.

The 2009-2010 team was very similar to last year. Following significant departures from a successful year, five promising recruits were brought in, garnering a top 10 preseason ranking. What happened instead was a 20-17 disappointing season that only allowed a run in the NIT. Deon Thompson and Marcus Ginyard graduated. Ed Davis went to the NBA. The Wear twins transferred and Will Graves was dismissed from the team. Six contributors gone off of a not very good team, the most promising returning players being a couple of post players (Tyler Zeller and John Henson), and a highly ranked recruiting class (Harrison Barnes, Reggie Bullock, and Kendall Marshall). Sounds familiar. Despite a shocking and very helpful mid-season departure, Carolina finished 29-8 overall, 14-2 in conference, and earned a number two seed.

Now, take that blueprint and think bigger. Zeller was a great college player but Garrison Brooks should garner some player of the year pre-season love. Seven excellent recruits including three five-star and three four-star players. Talent and promise at every position. Additionally, the comparison of last year was far worse than that of 2009-2010. This is going to be a fun year and is a truly exciting off-season.

Counterpoint: Bouncing back from a bad season is great, but give me a national championship contender any day.

Last year stunk, plain and simple. This summer stinks. The 2020-21 Tar Heel basketball team is going to be better than last year. They are going to win more games and they are going to make it easier for Carolina fans to sleep at night.

They are not, however, likely to win a National Championship. This is a great recruiting class but two years of massive departures have left the roster very thin in places. Another year with a freshman point guard, and a freshman back-up point guard, and Leaky Black as a back-up back-up point guard is just not appetizing.

I enjoyed the summer of 2016 more than this summer. That off-season was consumed with the memory of the last play against Villanova but the knowledge that the next year would be a chance to avenge the loss. It was a very good team with explosive scorers and a great story.

My favorite, however, was the summer of 2008. That was a juggernaut entering their final season. Seniors Tyler Hansbrough and Danny Green, juniors Wayne Ellington and Ty Lawson, freshmen Tyler Zeller and Ed Davis. And that’s just the NBA players. This was an absolutely loaded team that was destined to dominate the season. The pre-season number one team in the land.

That off-season had the look of a child on the way into Disney World. That’s the way I felt. They did not disappoint.

Time for you to decide! Is the off-season more exciting when there is a huge rebuilding success on the way or when the best team in the land is about to take the court? Have another answer, then leave a note in the comments.

Drink Pairing

In need of encouragement to debate – The Greyhound is a fantastic summer drink for a hot afternoon. Mix equal parts of grapefruit juice and vodka (we will leave the Absolut vs. Tito’s debate for another day) and pour over plenty of ice.