With the Preseason rankings for the 2017-18 College Basketball season finally released, the expectations for this year's squads have been set, at least according to coaches and writers around the country. How those teams end their seasons will determine whether or not they lived up to that preseason rating.
So, with his 15th season in Chapel Hill kicking off, let's look back at how Roy Williams' past Carolina teams have measured up to their preseason hype.
A quick example of the standard: The current Tar Heels rank #9 in both the AP and Coaches Polls to start the season. Plugging that into this model, that would mean a 2nd/3rd place finish in the ACC, an ACC Tournament Final appearance, and an Elite Eight/Sweet Sixteen elimination would qualify as a "Meets Expectations." Final Four would be an "Exceeds Expectations" and crashing out in the First or Second Round would be a "Does Not Meet Expectations.”
Roy's first year in Chapel Hill. Sean May was once again healthy, Felton, Noel and that swingman who wore #32 were sophomores, and Williams, Manuel, and Scott were juniors. The Heels started the season ranked #10 nationally. Ultimately, this team was a vast improvement from the previous season, but they just couldn't seem to win close games. A pair of heartbreakers to Duke, a 3-OT thriller against Wake, and a Jarret Jack buzzer beater in the ACC Quarterfinal stand out in particular. The Heels bowed out to Texas in the Round of 32.
Ultimately, the #10 ranking was probably a little generous for a team that had been in the NIT the year before, but the Tar Heels had a ton of talent and still finished with 11 losses on the season. That's a lot.
Verdict: Does Not Meet
That talent sure paid off the next year, though. UNC began ranked 3rd in Coaches and 4th in the AP. They won the ACC Regular Season, finished 2nd in the last polls, and WON THE NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP.
The Heels were seen as a top title contender and got it done, so there's a case to be made for "Meets Expectations" but unless you were the de facto favorite, that's not enough credit.
Verdict: Exceeds Expectations
Do I even have to say it? These Heels lost their top seven scorers, were unranked in the preseason polls, and still finished 2nd in the ACC, were a #3-seed in the tourney, and BEAT REDICK ON SENIOR NIGHT. The George Mason loss was bad, but there were some "experts" in November that were wondering if the Heels would even make the field of 64.
Verdict: Exceeds (Duh)
A tricky one. This team, which was #2 in the preseason polls, performed very well; They swept Duke, tied for the ACC Regular Season crown, and won the ACC Tournament. Hansbrough was a 1st team All-American, and the freshmen stars Lawson, Ellington, and Wright all thrived. But that Elite Eight collapse against Georgetown was a real gut punch. This team should've made the Final Four, and they basically had their ticket stamped until someone put cling wrap over the basket in the last five minutes.
Verdict: Does Not Meet
Again, a wildly successful season that ended in heartbreak. The Heels were Preseason #1 and lived up to it all year. The Heels didn't lose a true road game, smashed through the ACC, winning both titles, and reaching the Final Four. Hansbrough leveled up and won NPOY, and Lawson and Ellington combined to become one of the best backcourts in America.
Ultimately Kansas put an end to their national title dreams. Still, Carolina had an incredible season, winning everything but the National Championship.
This one's cut and dry to me. This team had ludicrous expectations and lived up to them. The Heels were supposed to win the championship and go down in history as one of the greatest college basketball teams ever, and...that's exactly what they did. Sure, they had a couple losses here and there, but they started the season as clearly the best team and ended it as CLEARLY the best team.
Ugh. This one's pretty cut and dry too, but in a less fun way. This team started the season ranked 6th in the AP and 4th(!) in the Coaches Poll. They'd lost a ton of talent, sure, but this team should've been better. Injuries and Larry Drew II cost them going anywhere near their potential. They ended up playing for an NIT Championship. Against Dayton. And lost.
Verdict: Does Not Meet
Hard to really put a finger on this one. The team started out ranked #8 in the country and ended exactly there, in the Elite Eight. But the team's expectations, so high with the arrival of Harrison Barnes, had plummeted by January until they fell out of the rankings. Then Larry Drew II fled in the night and Kendall Marshall saved the season, leading the Heels to a regular season title over Duke and all the way to a #2-seed in the tournament.
I'm going to cheat here: My heart tells me that this season actually began when Drew was benched in favor of Marshall, back when the Heels were virtually left for dead, which makes this one a massive positive.
Yeeesh. Yeah this one's easy. You can blame the injuries if you want (I certainly do) but the bottom line is that this team was supposed to win a National Championship and didn't make it to the Final Four. There were some low spots earlier in the season (the FSU beatdown and Austin Bleepin' Rivers) and some high ones (Miles Plume's Senior Night Sendoff), but with that team, any ending without a banner goes down as a disappointment.
Verdict: Does Not Meet
Looking back at the old polls, I was initially STUNNED to see that this team was ranked 11th nationally in the preseason, despite all the talent they had lost from the previous year. Then I remembered how good everyone thought James Michael McAdoo was going to be. This season was a struggle, with a lot of frustrating losses, but the Heels put together a strong push at the end of ACC play and had a wildly entertaining matchup in the ACC title game against Miami (when PJ Hairston went OFF).
Ultimately the Heels went down in the 2nd Round to Kansas in Kansas City. Frankly, the Heels were under-seeded and got screwed having to play in that matchup.
Verdict: Meets (Marginally)
I don't know. I really don't. This was the weirdest year ever. The Heels started the season ranked #12, but that was under the assumption that PJ Hairston would play. UNC had three or four of the most incredible wins ever (MSU in East Lansing, Louisville, Kentucky, Duke, State), but also some of the worst (Belmont).
The Heels were 1-4 in the ACC at one point, which no one expected. Then Marcus Paige turned into an axe-wielding fire god and the Heels won 12 straight, which no one expected. They ultimately ended with a heartbreaker against a good Iowa State team in the 2nd Round, which sounds about right, I guess?
Verdict: Offer your own take and I'll believe it
Going back and looking at this season, I have to admit I was surprised. This team lost 12 games. That's more than the 2004 team. Also that 11-7 record in the ACC was rough. The Tar Heels started the season ranked #6 and had the talent to be a contender, but they couldn't seem to finish games.
They had some good wins against Louisville (Paige Layup Part II) and Virginia in the ACCT, but they melted down against Duke and Louisville (in the second game), blew the ACC Final against Notre Dame, and had a great Wisconsin team on the ropes in the Sweet Sixteen before falling apart late.
This UNC team seemed to always give good teams a fight, but more often than not lost that fight.
Verdict: Does not Meet
Last year was great but I'm still not over this one: Marcus and Brice. The Heels were supposed to win a National Championship, and came as close as you possibly can to winning one. ACC Regular Season and Tournament Champs, got a win in Cameron, went to the Final Four and were 4.7 seconds from pushing the Championship Game to an overtime they surely would've won. Seriously, I'd give Nova the same chance of winning that OT that I gave the Falcons of winning the Super Bowl OT: Nada.
The Redemption Team. You know the particulars. This team had a destiny and realized it. You can call that "Meets" if you want, but I choose to give them a little edge in light of the fact that the University of New Jersey at Durham was Preseason #1 and was supposed to be K's greatest team. Heh.