Nervous Times in Chapel Hill: North Carolina Tar Heels Squarely on the Bubble

Josh HallmanContributor IIIJanuary 26, 2013

The North Carolina Tar Heels came into the 2012-2013 college basketball season with some lofty expectations and a top 15 national ranking.  In a way it was warranted, but it was partially a product of name recognition, respect for the program and media hype. 

UNC lost four players who were all picked in the top 20 of the NBA draft, virtually guaranteeing a talent drop-off this season. A fifth player, James McAdoo, was also touted as a potential lottery pick.  This seemed like an overreaction to a famous name more than anything else, but he ultimately decided to return. 

He hasn’t lived up to the hype so far this season, and it’s left the Tar Heels without a true No. 1 option on offense. Roy Williams has exacerbated the problem by constantly tinkering with the lineup—all the while failing to realize who should be in the game and who should be seated next to him on the bench.  We’re over halfway through the season, and Williams isn’t any closer to discovering his best lineup.

This year’s version of the Tar Heels had the talent to hang around the top 10 in the country, and potentially come up with a No. 3 or No. 4 seed in the NCAA tournament.  Obviously that is nothing more than a pipe dream at this point. 

Ole’ Roy has had trouble knowing who to play, and when to play them over the past few seasons (see Ginyard over Green, Drew II over Marshall), and maybe upon further review, his whole career.  Usually his teams are loaded with such tremendous talent that his errors and shortcomings as a coach are covered up.  The hard truth of the matter is, despite all the wins and even the two national championships, Roy Williams rarely maximizes the talent at his disposal. 

I’ve heard some say he has a “plan” to hold back talent for later seasons, or he’s just trying to develop depth for later in the year.  This is simply not the case.  Trust me, Roy Williams wants to win as many games as possible every year, and he wants the optimal scenario for every game and every season.  He just doesn’t know how to do it.

How would it ever make sense to play lesser players so much at the expense of better ones?  Why would you play a guy big minutes just because he’s a little older, forcing a future NBA draft pick to toil on the bench in his first or second season?  Why would you purposely keep your best player on the bench, when your team is struggling and desperately searching for its leader? 

These kinds of decisions are leading to unnecessary losses, and a lack of reps for young players who are already better than the guys taking their minutes.  Is it possible that Williams lets his emotions and personal feelings make his lineups, and that this tendency has cost UNC many wins over the past few seasons?

I know Roy loves the University and wants to win as much as anyone.  I also know he genuinely cares about the kids that he coaches, but many times it’s this same noble trait that leads to his biggest errors as a basketball strategist.  I realize he’s a Hall of Fame coach, but no one is above constructive criticism, and even the most well-respected in their craft can have deficiencies.  He simply needs someone on his staff to be responsible for minute distribution.

The way I see it, if things continue on their current path, UNC will be a No. 9 seed in the NCAA Tournament.  After playing out the remaining schedule in my head, I think the Tar Heels finish the regular season 19-12 overall, 9-9 in the ACC. 

There are six crucial, winnable games that will likely decide their fate (@BC, @GT, vs. NC St., @Clemson, @Maryland, and the finale at home against Duke).  They’ll enter the ACC tournament as the No. 4 or No. 5 seed, win their first round matchup, and apply for the tournament squarely on the bubble at 20-13 or 21-13. 

Typically, this would result in a No. 10-12 seed or an NIT appearance, so I’m going to take the top part of that range because it’s UNC and go with a No. 9 seed.

P.J. Hairston and Brice Johnson aren’t getting nearly enough minutes, and if they’re “discovered” the Heels could be a dangerous opponent for the top seeds early on in the tournament.  However, if Roy stubbornly refuses to make the obvious changes that are needed to unlock this team’s potential, Carolina fans could be very nervous come Selection Sunday.