Barring a mid-season turnaround, it is hard to envision the University of North Carolina men's basketball team finishing the season among college basketball's elite programs, but that is okay.
Even if UNC fails to make the NCAA Tournament, there is no reason for fans of the program to consider this season a failure or a disappointment. In fact, based on the history of UNC Tarheel basketball under Roy Williams, a season such as the one that is currently transpiring should have been expected.
For Williams and UNC basketball, the 2012-13 campaign represents the third such season that the Tarheels are taking the floor after a mass exodus of their best players to the NBA. In last year's draft, UNC had four players (Harrison Barnes, John Henson, Kendall Marshall, and Tyler Zeller) selected in the first round. The other two times an almost identical exodus of talent occurred were before the 2005-06 and 2009-10 seasons, both seasons after UNC won the national championship.
Unsurprisingly, each season after the exodus sees UNC basketball take a step back.
During the 2005-06 season, although UNC made it to the second round of the NCAA Tournament before being knocked out by George Mason, the Tarheels still took a significant step back in their efficiency numbers.
In their 31 games that season, UNC outscored their opponents by an unadjusted 15.0 points per 100 possessions. While impressive, this certainly paled in comparison to what the 2005 championship team did by outscoring their opponents by an unadjusted 23.7 points per 100 possessions.
The story told by the decline in efficiency between those two seasons is similar, but not as marked as what took place between the 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons.
Over the course of the 2008-09 season, the Tarheels outpaced their foes by an adjusted 24.0 points per 100 possessions, a mark that further dropped the next season to the point where the Tarheels only outscored their opponents by an unadjusted 3.7 points per 100 possessions.
Given the way the 2009-10 Tarheels struggled to outscore opponents, it is no surprise they ended their season with an invitation to the NIT Tournament and not the NCAA Tournament.
Sixteen games into this season, UNC possesses a largely unimpressive record of 11-5. They have outscored their opponents by an unadjusted 14.6 points per 100 possessions, which is nowhere near the elite level UNC attained during the 2011-12 season when the Tarheels outscored opponents by an unadjusted 19.9 points per 100 possessions.
Compared to last season, it would seem that UNC is struggling mightily since losing an unadjusted 5.3 points per 100 possessions is a significant decline in efficiency.
But really, the team is simply following the usual journey the Tarheels have taken before under Williams. Next year, the Tarheels will be better than this year, and in two or three years, UNC will once again be a serious contender for a national title before experiencing another mass exodus.
UNC basketball fans would no doubt prefer it if Williams could reload the program a little faster and not waste even one season on rebuilding, but to expect that is an exercise in futility. Williams will have the Tarheels back near the top of the college basketball landscape soon enough. We just need to be patient and wait for the inevitable to come.