Roy Williams' arrival in Chapel Hill was awaited with great expectations. Of these expectations, Williams' ability to nationally recruit top-tier basketball talent was arguably the most anticipated. When Williams arrived, he was dealt a very lofty hand with the team that Matt Doherty left behind; A handful of McDonald's All-Americans and a team that would soon lead Williams to a national title in 2005, with the help of a Williams' crowned talent as well, Marvin Williams (arguably sixth man of the year in 2005). Williams reloaded and made his run through the 2009 tournament look like cutting soft butter. I respect Michigan State's Tom Izzo and what he brings to college basketball, but Carolina trounced the Spartans 89-72. It was an embarrassment. They marched through the entire tournament stampede style, winning every game by double digits with a Blake Griffin-lead Oklahoma team coming closest (within 12 points).
Williams' ability to keep fresh players on the court is unmatched throughout college basketball, in most part due to the lack of talent possessed by other NCAA contenders. He knows how to bring them into Chapel Hill. He exposes the joyful mood of Franklin Street and dons the countless banners hanging in the Dean Smith Center as a reminder of a program that expects a national title march every year. In order to fulfill these expectations, a team must have depth. With the college basketball landscape being the way it is today, the days of prepping underclassmen through a year or two of learning from upperclassmen has found its way out. High school recruits are marinated for the pro game. Kentucky Head Coach John Calipari exposes this cavity best. His philosophy: Land an outstanding point guard and big men will flock. Convince that PG that he will be a pro and that his services are crucial for one season, then off you go to make millions. No one can hold judgment over this motto because it works, i.e., Dajuan Wagner, Tyreke Evans, Derrick Rose, John Wall and Brandon Knight. This doesn't help provide depth though, something Williams' has nothing short of mastered.
Coming into this season, Carolina has 12 players who could see quality minutes, by far the most among Division 1 teams in the NCAA, save St. John's Steve Lavin's army of a class with nine coming in. Nine! Seven of Lavins' nasty nine are graded at 91 or above on a 100-point scale. Well done Steve, well done. Watch out for the Red Storm. Back to UNC, Williams finds ways to fill roster needs in a way that pays Berkshire Hathaway-type dividends. This mix includes hybrid players that can be menacing to opposing defenses, making it a coaching nightmare against the Tar Heels. The aces wild at the table for this year’s Tar Heel bunch is their ability to rotate two five-man lineups that UNC can use in order to continuously have fresh legs in the game while keeping scoring threats on the floor, also known as the 2/5 Law:
Starting Five: PG Marshall, SG Hairston, SF Barnes, PF Henson, C Zeller.
Second Five: PG Strickland, SG Bullock, SF Watts, PF McAdoo, C Hubert/Simmons
The Starting Five explains itself. Hairston, being the questionable member, has a tremendous upside in the way he runs the floor, fights to get to the basket and shoots lights out. I’m talking Marine-style sniper. He has a leaping ability that will only improve, as long as he stays in shape. Hairston has reportedly had problems doing so in the past, but in interviews he seems very mature and composed, not to mention he is a Tar Heel fanatic. I can’t tell you how many times he has been quoted saying and Tweeting, “Tar Heel for Life." Marshall is at least a 3rd Team All-American, Barnes is arguably Player of the Year. Henson will again dominate the ACC defensively. Don’t be surprised to find him on an All-American team either. Zeller will be Zeller, consistent in scoring and defense, keeping his head up and leading with an on- and off-court work ethic.
The Second Five will provide quality minutes and little worry. They may not be the scoring machine like the starters, but teams will find it difficult to score on them. McDonald being healthy, Bullock would have slid to the SF slot, with McDonald giving the unit a solid outside threat. That case being on the contrary, Bullock will hold down the SG spot. He plays incredible defense due to his length, not to mention great speed and intelligence. Watts will be a leader on the squad, regardless of his minutes. He is a valued and respected upperclassman who takes advantage of every minute on the court. Watts defines the saying of, “Go Big or Go Home." McAdoo will be the scoring threat for the crew; he can step out and handle the rock, or he can back you down and pipe it on somebody’s head. Hubert and Simmons will split some time throughout the season. Simmons had a great fire about him and Hubert is quick around the rim, but needs to gain a little weight ... being 210 lbs. at 6’9" isn’t ideal for a center.
Look for this Carolina squad to be among the best of the Williams’ tenure. Anything short of a Final Four appearance will be regarded as a failure by most. This team has grown to know each other and seem like a very tight-knit group. This should translate into a very successful season. The roller coaster won’t stop after March of 2012 either as Williams’ commits from recruits for the 2013-14 season include two highly touted seniors in J.P. Tokoto of Wisconsin (a great high-flier and wingman). The next UNC floor general is lined up to be Marcus Paige out of Iowa, arguably the top PG of his class. Tar Heel Nation seems to have bright years ahead.
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