Harrison Barnes, UNC's star swingman, has had one of college basketball's most turbulent seasons, especially in terms of popular perception, in recent memory.
The No. 1 recruit coming out of high school, Barnes was voted first-team preseason All-American. Of all the great freshmen to come through the college ranks in recent years—from Carmelo Anthony to Kevin Durant and Mike Beasley—none had ever received that honor.
Expectations couldn't have been higher for Barnes, who was supposed to singlehandedly resurrect UNC's program, which had missed the NCAA tournament for the first time in a generation the year before.
So when he struggled to start the season, averaging 12 points, six rebounds and one assist on 37 percent shooting, the backlash was enormous. With their star freshman underperforming, the Tar Heels' season seemed destined to be mired in mediocrity for yet another season.
But that wasn't really Barnes' fault. Roy Williams' offense depends inordinately on point guard play, and Larry Drew, the incumbent starter, was a mid-major talent at best. So when he was benched for McDonald's All-American Kendall Marshall, the team—and Barnes—made a 180.
By the end of the year, Barnes was averaging 15/6/1 on 45 percent shooting, including a 40-point performance in the ACC tournament and several late-game daggers that helped them make the Elite Eight.
So has he regained his place as the preeminent prospect in college basketball? I don't think so, but I'd argue that's because he never had it in the first place. He had the same holes in his game in March as he did in December, and he had the strengths then that he showcased in postseason play.
In evaluating Barnes and other NCAA prospects, I like to use what I call "the five-tool" system (borrowed heavily from baseball scouts), which looks at the five skills college players need to translate their games to the next level—the ability to create a shot, defend a position, shoot, rebound and pass.
Despite being extremely skilled for a 6'8" player, Barnes has one big weakness—a lack of elite athleticism—in comparison to some of his competitors (Duke's Kyrie Irving, Arizona's Derrick Williams and Baylor's Perry Jones III) for the No. 1 spot in the NBA draft.