Welcome to the Tar Heel Hangover. This is normally our opportunity to review the games of the last week, second-guess all of the key moments, and set the game plan for the week ahead. This week, however, the end of the season calls for a reflection series. Today, I will start with a deep dive into precisely what Carolina fans want from the program.
The Elevator Speech: What has happened over the last week.
The Tar Heel planet shifted. Coming off a blowout victory over Duke (not even the shoe kind) and a reasonable showing in the ACC Tournament, Carolina looked to make a run in the NCAA Tournament. Instead, a flat effort against Wisconsin resulted in an early exit. Then came the rumors and tweets, a transfer, a declaration for the NBA Draft, and a whole bunch of questions. For a couple of great summaries and perspectives, check out Al’s and Brandon’s articles here and here.
Water Cooler Discussion: What is your perspective?
- Do you prefer a consistently good program or the possibility of championship?
History tells us that a Carolina national championship is typically followed by a down year or two. That is just a function of having a highly successful team full of great players who either graduate or move on to professional careers.
Following the 2005 Championship, four players left early for the NBA (juniors Sean May, Rashad McCants, and Raymond Felton and freshman Marvin Williams) and three players with regular minutes graduated (Melvin Scott, Jackie Manuel, and Jawad Williams). That triggered a rebuild with successive years of NCAA Tournament advancement.
After the 2009 Championship, a similar cycle occurred. Two juniors left for the NBA (Wayne Ellington and Ty Lawson) along with two seniors (Danny Green and Tyler Hansbrough). A rebuild started the following fall with an up and down season that resulted in a trip to the NIT.
Again, the program would undergo a period of increasing improvement. The NIT appearance bred additional turnover with Ed Davis declaring for the draft and the Wear twins transferring, along with a mid-season transfer. The 2011-12 team was good enough to win the title but an injury to starting point guard Kendall Marshall was too much to overcome. The rebuild started yet again with three players leaving early for the NBA (Marshall, Harrison Barnes, and John Henson) along with a graduating senior (Tyler Zeller).
By 2017, the team had returned to championship glory and would again undergo significant roster turnover. Two players declared early for the draft (Justin Jackson and Tony Bradley) and three others graduated (Kennedy Meeks, Nate Britt, and Isaiah Hicks). Time for another rebuild; rinse, repeat.
This is the cost of Carolina Championships (and Championships generally in college basketball). The history also begs the question, why has the current rebuild been so bumpy?
2. Do you prefer to win in June or win in March?
In a time of instant gratification, the rankings for next year will start to be issued as soon as the buzzer sounds on the championship game. These rankings have recently hinged on the strength of the incoming recruiting classes. Win on the recruiting trail, and you are the attention getter for the whole summer. Having a great freshman class does not, however, translate to March success.
Carolina has had four different starting point guards in the last four years. Three of those were freshmen. The last time UNC and Roy Williams went to the Final Four with a freshman point guard was never.
Therein is the conflict. Nothing can help a quick rebuild like bringing in a high profile recruit to run the offense. History, however, shows that such a path limits the overall success of the team. Again, in an age where patience is rare, fans understandably immediately want the best opportunity for a great team but also complain when that team does not exceed expectations.
This is not just a UNC issue. As much as it hurts to say, Coach K is a great recruiter. Since 2000, Duke has been to the Final Four 4 times and started a sophomore (Jay Williams) and three seniors (Chris Duhon, John Sheyer), and Quinn Cook). Despite all of those great freshmen point guards, none have produced deep tournament runs. And yet every summer, Duke is the lead story.
Take from this what you will. There is no right or wrong answer here, but philosophies of recruiting can be a question of perspective.
There are lots of related questions to dive into in the coming weeks. Starting with these two in the context of the last week seems very appropriate. Hang in there Tar Heel fans.