The North Carolina Tar Heels have loads of talent. Head coach Roy Williams recruits top prospects to Chapel Hill each and every season. However, recently it has seemed as though many of those prospects have failed to develop as fans have anticipated, especially in the frontcourt. Is Roy Williams slipping?
You certainly cannot debate Williams' success. He is a Hall of Fame basketball coach. He won over 400 games as leader of the Kansas Jayhawks, and those teams made the NCAA tournament every season they were eligible.
Now at North Carolina, Williams has added nearly 300 more regular-season wins, nine more tournament berths and three more Final Four appearances to go with the four he had at Kansas. In fact, his seven Final Fours are tied as the fourth most in NCAA history for a head coach.
However, past success was never up for debate. What has become debatable is how much Williams is helping this current crop of players at UNC. The coach is supposed to not only recruit these young men to his university but also improve them as players and human beings. Williams' biggest rival, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, has always said how much he values leading and teaching.
So while it is mostly unfair to criticize Roy Williams for the mistakes recently made by P.J. Hairston, Leslie McDonald and, to a lesser extent, JP Tokoto, it is not wholly unfair. Part of the responsibility of the actions of college players falls on their head coach.
But it isn't just off-court mistakes that stick question marks all around Williams this season. It is also the development of his young players. Other than Marcus Paige, no one on this roster seems to be getting much better.
Of course it is too soon to make any judgments about the 2013 freshmen. They have only played a handful of games, and fans knew coming into the season that none of them were on the level of the elite talents who will be departing for the NBA after the season.
However, it is rather alarming to take a look at the sophomore class on this roster. Tokoto, Brice Johnson, Joel James and Paige all came to Carolina last season as highly touted recruits. All four were rated as 4-star talents with grades of 93 or higher according to ESPN Recruiting Nation.
Yet after a full season under their belts, only Paige is any good on a consistent basis. Claiming it is too soon to judge freshmen is fair; arguing it is too soon to make any decisions about the ceiling of sophomores is faulty. In college basketball these days, where all the best players leave after one season, a returning sophomore is considered a veteran.
While Williams is forced to rely on Tokoto, Johnson and James for big minutes each game because of his shortened bench, they are showing nothing more than small flashes of their abilities. Johnson has been the most reliable thus far, but many of his points come off of dunks and second-chance opportunities in which he has been the benefactor.
Meanwhile, Tokoto and James have been barely better than atrocious. Tokoto is shooting so poorly from everywhere on the court, including the free-throw line, that it is cringe-inducing any time he catches a pass in scoring range.
This season certainly could still turn out promising for the Tar Heels. They have an impressive win over Louisville already on their resume, and conference play has yet to commence. However, the suspensions of the backcourt players and the emergence of Paige as a star have overshadowed the dreariness that has overtaken the frontcourt players. Even junior James Michael McAdoo seems like a shell of the player everyone expected him to become.
While his numbers are solid, anyone who watches him play on a regular basis grows frustrated with his inability to take over games like a player of his stature should, or even like Paige has done so quickly this season.
Perhaps this could simply be attributed to a string of coincidences in timing. But if a less distinguished coach had trotted out this lineup of underachievers, the media would not be so quick to let it slide. Past success certainly buys Williams the benefit of the doubt. That doesn't mean there shouldn't be doubt, though.