Tar Heel Basketball Preview: Gray Clouds over Carolina Blue Skies

I suppose that in a blog post like this, the lead is where I will write about how UNC is “young, but talented,” and how they could get it together to make a run in the NCAA tournament, how as one the premiere basketball programs in the country it will thus always be in the national title hunt. I could even mention that James Michael McAdoo is projected to be a top NBA Draft pick.

But I can’t. I just can’t. The truth is, I’m already in mourning for this year’s UNC squad’s national title hopes. I’ve been in mourning ever since Kendall and the Gang declared for the NBA Draft last year.[1]

Everyone in my family who has gone to UNC has seen the Tar Heels win a national championship in their tenure; the third degree burns that come from singing yourself while jumping over fires on Franklin Street are practically a rite of passage in my household. So the fact that the Tar Heels have virtually no shot at winning a title this year is disappointing, to put it mildly. Being ranked behind N.C. State (I mean, N.C. State) in early preseason polls just adds insult to injury.

Some hopelessly optimistic UNC fans are probably thinking that in this kind of year for college basketball, where the sport is so wide open, anybody can win it. But if I’m being brutally honest (which is difficult as a sports fan), there’s just not a lot to get excited about on this year’s UNC roster. At best, this is mostly a roster of “could-be” players. James Michael McAdoo could live up to his draft hype and be one of the best players in the country this year. Or he could be another Ed Davis/Marvin Williams type, who shows a ton of promise as a freshman that he never lives up to. Brice Johnson or Joel James could turn out to be the next out-of-nowhere freshman phenoms like Tyler Hansbrough, but realistically, probably won’t be. And Marcus Paige could be one of the top point guards in the country,[2] or he could struggle to master Roy William’s complex system as a freshman.

On top of all these issues, there’s a larger, unibrow shaped rain cloud hanging over the entire future of UNC basketball. As Chuck Klosterman so brilliantly pointed out last year, Kentucky’s national championship has changed college basketball, and not for the better. In the past, when UNC lost a ton of players to the NBA, it wasn’t a death sentence because there would always be some highly touted freshman ready to step in. Fans could comfort themselves in the shelter of a “rebuilding year,” where young stars-to-be work out the kinks in their games and blossom into players who will be the foundations of their teams for at least the next one or two seasons. But there are really aren’t rebuilding years in college basketball anymore, because men like John Calipari have realized you can skip the slow process of building and rebuilding, and just reload with one-and-done-NBA-stars-to-be every year. Before last year, those who didn’t like John Calipari’s recruiting methods (myself included) could comfort themselves by saying that one-and-done players don’t win championships, you still have to have three-and-four-year guys like Tyler Hansbrough or Kyle Singler to win it all.

However, if Calipari keeps winning championships, basketball programs like UNC could find themselves with a tough choice: start going after one-and-done players and abandon all pretense of “student-athletes”[3] but win championships, or stick with the three-and-four-year guys who will never be able to stand toe-to-toe with teams stacked with future NBA stars. The problem is, as much as I’d like to see my beloved Tar Heels win another title, I’d like it a lot less if it meant dropping the comforting illusion of college athletes remaining “student-athletes.”

All told, the future of UNC basketball is as bleak as I can remember it being since I started seriously following the sport. Oh well, at least the Bobcats will have another top draft pick to look forward to.

[1] As an aside, I always thought Kendall, at least should have stayed. He’s too slow on defense and can’t score enough to succeed in the NBA. Sadly, so far his playing time in Phoenix indicates his coaches might feel the same way.

[2] Of the three scenarios I mentioned, this is actually the one I’m most confident about.

[3] An admittedly flimsy concept in College Athletics

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5 Responses to Tar Heel Basketball Preview: Gray Clouds over Carolina Blue Skies

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  1. mac says:

    First, I agree with the premise of the article. Things don’t look great for UNC basketball and as of right now there is no calvary committed for next year (Hicks will be solid but not great)

    but some of the things you wrote make me question whether you started watching Carolina Basketball in 2009.
    – Marvin Williams only played 1 season in Chapel Hill.
    – Saying Tyler Hanbrough came “out-of-nowhere” is flat out wrong. Hansbrough was the 7th ranked player in his class.

    Saying things like that undermine your point. You could have said we are a perimeter oriented team who can’t shoot. You could have said we have a bunch of players who specialists who can’t do much else. (Strickland: defender who can’t shoot, McDonald: spot-up shooter who can’t do anything else, etc.) You could have pointed out that the first two games of the season saw us trot out a line-up with the worst player to ever start consecutive games for a Carolina basketball team.

    1. Wiggins says:

      I was referring to Marvin Williams’ NBA career with that comment, he was, after all, taken ahead of guys like Paul and Williams in the draft.

      As far as Hansbrough goes, I admit I didn’t realize he was so highly ranked in high school, I didn’t really follow recruiting all that much at the time, I just remember McRoberts and Paulus over at Duke were getting most of the hype heading into the season.

  2. Hunter Whitworth says:

    I think last year’s Kentucky team was an outlier. If last night’s game (and, for that matter, the game against Maryland) is any indication, this year’s Cats won’t be able to just roll over teams, and they lack (for now…) the mental toughness to succeed against comparably talented teams that stick around the whole game.

    I think Paige to Johnson is going to be a pretty slick thing to watch this year, but I don’t think good old Jimmy Michael will be able to live up to the hype.

  3. morgan says:

    you being a unc fan should have already gotten over the idea of a “student” athlete. the (unpunished) academic fraud commited by unc is the reson why. though kentucky may have one and dones we had a 3.2 gpa last year on our team. and our athletic department as a whole had above a 3.0.

  4. morgan says:

    all im saying is dont point the finger at kentucky for the death of the student athlete when unc has been made up of african studies students for the past decade.

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