Yesterday, I went over three things I expect to see if things go well with UNC’s transition to Hubert Davis as head basketball coach. Today I’ll explore what I’d expect to see if things don’t go well.
Again, Tar Heel Nation is dealing with a lot of unknowns right now. When Matt Doherty and Roy Williams were hired, fans could reference Notre Dame and Kansas tape to get a feel for what systems Carolina would run. Unless you were at UNC JV games, you probably don’t know what Hubert Davis has in store for the team next year.
Coach Davis has stated publicly that the Carolina Way is time tested and proven as a winner, but he will tweak it to make it more in line with the modern game. So far, most prognosticators have determined that this means more spacing and an emphasis on shooting. That sounds like the 2018-19 team, which earned a 1-seed, but lost to an Auburn team that was even more committed to perimeter scoring.
If things do not go smoothly in Hubert Davis’s first season, here’s what I’d expect to see.
Bacot misses his buddies
Again, we’re assuming that Armando Bacot comes back. Hubert Davis said as much on the Jon Rothstein podcast. But stranger things have happened in the past, so this is not yet 100%.
I’m actually excited at the prospect of watching Bacot operate as a lone post player. The Wisconsin loss showed what he was capable of when he decided to single-handedly take over a game. More space and less size down low to double-team and offer help defense will only benefit Bacot over the course of a season.
But how will this affect team rebounding? Brady Manek shot 37.5 FG3% last season at Oklahoma, which meant he missed more than half of his outside shots. Bacot was used to having a twin tower inside with him to corral rebounds. Carolina’s shooting often left fans wanting, but their unique ability to outrebound opponents, especially on the offensive glass, led to a lot of good looks. Drink every time Jay Bilas says “Carolina’s best offense is a missed shot,” and you might end up in the hospital.
Will Bacot’s overall game suffer if UNC doesn’t have an overwhelming advantage on the boards? Will he get silly over-the-back fouls if he feels like the team isn’t getting enough second looks? In a worst-case scenario, I could see Bacot missing crucial portions of games after getting whistled for over-aggressive rebounding in an effort to keep Carolina out of the red in that margin.
Leaky presses too much
Assuming Leaky isn’t a five-year player, this season will be his last hurrah in Chapel Hill. To those outside of the program, Leaky seemed like a Roy Williams favorite and was given ample minutes and starts, even when his production didn’t seem to warrant them.
Fair-minded people can disagree, but if some of the rising sophomores (Puff Johnson especially) and newcomers like D’Marco Dunn, Dontrez Styles, and Justin McKoy show that they can provide more firepower on the wing than Leaky, he might see his minutes whittled down.
If this happens, or he finds himself coming off the bench, will Leaky begin to press? In a worst-case scenario, maybe Leaky stops doing the things that make him unique and starts letting it fly like Sandy Lyle. Aside from his amazing shooting display at Miami last season, this has historically not been something that benefits UNC long term. Take a look at the ACC Network’s season highlight reel for Leaky below. Most of his big plays come from his playmaking (blocking shots or making excellent passes) and drives to the rim, not from shooting threes.
For the Tar Heels to hit their heights, I’d expect Leaky to continue doing Leaky things, especially rebounding, since he’ll have to help make up UNC’s size deficit. If he catches the ball with space, he should certainly catch-and-shoot when able, rather than standing frozen for a few beats, dribbling nowhere in particular, and then chucking it up when the shot clock winds down. Too much of that, and Carolina will not be where it wants to be.
Hubert Davis shows he’s not ready
When I was in college, I had a summer job at a Persian food restaurant in Crystal City, Virginia near the Pentagon. I was initially hired to run the cash register, but when one of the line cooks left, my boss wanted me to duck into the grill and kitchen every once in a while to help out. I’d prepare salads and scoop rice, that was easy enough.
But working the grill, that was tougher. It was an industrial-sized grill and I did not have a meat thermometer like when I grilled in the backyard. I was terrified of killing people from salmonella, but my boss didn’t want me drying out the chicken.
One day, I was working the register and helping out like I normally would, when the main line cook got a phone call and just dipped. No explanation. We were in the middle of the lunch rush, and these office workers were ornery. Let’s just say it did not go very well, and I probably cost my boss some business. By the time I graduated, that Persian restaurant became a Subway.
All of that to say this: Hubert Davis is a great guy. He’s a Carolina man, has great pedigree, experience, and is an excellent communicator. This is his first real job as a head coach. It’s at a top-three destination in all of college basketball. There’s a lot at stake. Worst-case scenario, this is too much, too soon.
I have every confidence that Hubert Davis is capable of pulling a Roy Williams-at-Kansas and knocking it out of the park. But that success is not guaranteed. There’s too many variables. I’ll certainly have my fingers crossed, but Roy Williams was either the greatest basketball coach in UNC history, or is a cat’s whisker behind Dean Smith. Hubert Davis is stepping into some mighty big J’s. I do hope that he is ready to make the job his own and carry Carolina back to prominence.