Unrealistic Expectations For Carolina Hoops

Tom Field

The Redemption Tour was an amazing, thrilling year in Carolina Basketball and now comes the Magical Mystery Tour which could be setting up a Resurrection Tour next year.

Will the Tar Heels follow up last year’s NCAA Championship with a reprise of 2010? The 2010 season was the year after another NCAA Championship but everything went wrong as the beaker blew up in chemistry class. We are still waiting for the book that ex­plains all the personal conflicts in the Caro­lina Family of 2010 that caused a team with seven HS All-Americans to end up with 17 losses and a disappointing NIT loss.

The pre-season predictions are coming in for 2017 and the Heels are rated as a Top 15 team with seemingly little chance of repeating the 2010 debacle. However, these predictions seem overly optimistic given the fact that the front court consists of Luke Maye and four freshmen who were all rated outside the top 125 players coming out of High School in 2017. (For context, Joel James was a consensus Top 75 player).

This talent gap in the front court is magnified by the fact that over the past two seasons UNC’s success in winning 66 games was propelled by being the nation’s #1 offensive rebounding team. Roy Williams, interviewed in early October, remarked that if you merged the four new front court players into one body you might have a decent Center.

This is one of Roy’s favorite clichés, but usually applied to only two players. Unfortu­nately, it seems to accurately describe the fresh­men quartet, thus demonstrating how thin the talent level is.

Here is how the talent is spread among the newcomers: Sterling Manley 6-10 (Ohio) has the longest wingspan and the least experience, Garrison Brooks 6-9 (Alabama) is fundamentally sound with some offensive skills inside, Brandon Huffman 6-10 (Goldsboro) is the strongest and most aggressive of the quartet.

Walker Miller 6-11 (Greensboro) Wes Mil­ler’s younger brother is a walk-on who is a foot taller than Wes, and could develop some day into a stretch 4. Length + fundamentals + strength + outside shot = that one solid Center that Roy is looking for to replace the extraordinary board work of Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks and Brice Johnson (just in 2016) over the past two seasons.

In this remarkable two-year run of 66 Wins and just 14 losses, Carolina has stubbornly resisted the 3-point barrage revolutionizing College and Pro Basketball. They were number 1 in NCAA wins but outside the Top 310 teams in percent of the offense coming from 3-point shots over the last two seasons. The only way to resist the urge to launch from 22 feet is to relentlessly pound the ball inside. This is a mission impossible when you no longer have an effective inside game.

Ol’ Roy will not change stuff unless that stuff ain’t working anymore. Enter that most rare of sights in a Carolina Blue uni: a high-profile transfer. Cameron Johnson blitzed the Heels last January by hitting 6 of 9 threes while playing the entire 40 minutes for Pittsburgh and finishing with a game-high 24 points. This season he is going to be plugged into the de­parted Justin Jackson socket.

Johnson will not rebound, defend, pass or penetrate as well as the NBA First-Rounder. Instead Cam has one exceptional skill. He is a long-range three-point shooter with a release that is pure perfection. Justin’s painstakingly manufactured form is being replaced by effortless grace. But Marcus Paige had a soft shot and was still bedeviled by some horrendous slumps. The shot, no matter how pretty, needs confidence behind it.

If Roy gives Cam automatic absolution for any launch no matter how untimely, perhaps the misery of 2010 will not be repeated.

The player turnover (seven new players) makes this a great year for stay-at-home coaches to endlessly tinker with potential lineups and then call in to talk shows or post online to help guide Roy to another 30-win season.

Williams relishes this advice as it gives him a chance to remind kibitzers of the volume of basketball knowledge residing in his pinkie finger. This is understandable when you hold an edge in games won of 821-0over each of those aching to replace Roy as Head Coach.

Let’s start the ball rolling.

Player Minutes Projection:
PG: Berry (20) Felton (14) Woods (6)
SG: Berry (14) Felton (8) Williams (18)
SF: Johnson (24) Pinson (12) Robinson (4)
PF: Maye (16) Pinson (20) Brooks (4)
C: Maye (16) Brooks (12) Huffman (12)

The year following an NCAA Champion­ship should be a casual, light-hearted romp as fans just keep memories nearby to ward off any trauma from blowout losses. Players and Coaches just calmly rebuild for the next run. This should be especially true when this is the same year that the NCAA was forced to confront the essential fantasy of its over-hyped case morphing mismanagement in Arts and Sciences Administration into an elaborate 18 year con game supposedly run by the Athletic Department.

Thousands of emails, hundreds of interviews and the weight of a hungry media looking for a scandal and the NCAA desperately trying to take down a heavyweight program, and yet the panel of investigators and lawyers were unable to find some telltale hint or proof of anything other than a lazy prof and a compliant administrative assistant independently passing out high grades to anyone looking for an easy course.

In spite of all the recent victories and vindication vs the NCAA, the upcoming 21-12 record (including two blowout losses to Duke) will bring much gnashing of teeth and the kingdom will seem further away than ever. I urge you to stay tethered to past success and just be happy.