That KU Comparison

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Carolina and Kansas are in the college basketball news again, this time over the commitment of top recruit Andrew Wiggins to play for the Jayhawks and not the Tar Heels in his obvious and upcoming one-and-done season.

It’s becoming a small irritant to many Tar Heel fans, who expend most of their energy hating on Duke and scoffing at N.C. State. Kansas is in the Big 12 and a time zone away, but KU and UNC have remained tied at the hip since Roy Williams left Lawrence in 2003 to return to his alma mater.

First, there was the hoo-ha over ol’ Roy coming home after he had first turned the job down in 2000. Williams pledged to remain at Kansas until he “died or retired.” But KU angered him by forcing out his mentor and the man who had gambled his entire career on hiring Williams in 1988, athletic director Bob Frederick. Then the school’s new AD, Al Bohl, fired football coach Terry Allen in mid-season. That’s a no-no in ol’ Roy’s book of loyalty.

Had Williams come back in 2000, UNC would have been spared the Matt Doherty era. But Roy turned the resentment he felt from some Carolina fans into resiliency as the Tar Heels won his first, and the school’s fourth, NCAA title in his second year. Now Jayhawk Nation remained mad at him, especially since successor Bill Self struggled early with two embarrassing first-round outs from the Big Dance.

The manure hit the fan in 2008, when the two top-seeded programs met in the Final Four at San Antonio, where the Tar Heels inexplicably fell behind by 28 points in the first half and fell short in their second half rally. Williams then stayed in Texas to cheer on his old school against Memphis, wearing a KU sticker while sitting in the UNC section (among Tar Heels who also stuck around town).

Carolina won another national championship in 2009, but the worm has turned since then. Kansas continued its current string of nine straight Big 12 regular-season championships, returned to the Final Four in 2012 and routed the Tar Heels in the second half of their NCAA third-round game last March after KU dispatched the hurting Heels in the regional championship game the year before. That makes the head-to-head score Self 3, Williams 0.

And, this week, Kansas beat UNC, Kentucky and Florida State to reel in what jubilant Jayhawk fans are calling the biggest recruiting catch in KU history.

That’s a little much for the talented 6-7 Wiggins, who according to NBA scouts would be the No. 1 pick in this year’s draft if he were eligible. Claiming Wiggins’ expected one year at Kansas is bigger than the signing of KU legends Clyde Lovellette and Danny Manning is pure hype, unless Wiggins can lead the Jayhawks to an NCAA title as Lovellette and Manning did their senior years.

But Wiggins not coming to Chapel Hill, when Reggie Bullock’s departure opened up a starting position, is troubling for a couple of reasons.

One is that the Tar Heels have slipped in recruiting since signing Harrison Barnes in 2010. Heretofore, Williams hasn’t seemed interested in the acknowledged one-and-dones, but he did go after Wiggins hard to help rebound from what was a disappointing season in 2013. Carolina has another good freshman class coming in, led by North Carolina Player of the Year Isaiah Hicks, a 6-9 super-talent who may be too slim to be an impact player his first season.

The other, more subtle, problem is comparing Williams’ first 10 seasons back at UNC to his first 12 at Kansas, where it took him a year to get the Jayhawks rolling after inheriting a probation-laden program in 1988 – the same year KU won the NCAA championship, graduated Manning and lost coach Larry Brown to the NBA.

At Kansas, Williams’ run between 1990 and 1998 made him the winningest active coach in America and the fastest to reach 300 career victories. His Jayhawks went to two early Final Fours and suffered some heartbreaking defeats tying to get back there in the late 1990s. But his program tailed off in 1999 and 2000, losing 10 games each season and its second game of the NCAA Tournament both years. Most strikingly, neither team’s leading scorer averaged as many as 14 points. That was a sure indication of a loss in star power.

Williams says he would have returned to Carolina after the 1998 or 1999 seasons had Bill Guthridge decided to retire earlier than he did. Williams had become disillusioned with recruiting in the Big 12, where a crooked AAU coach named Myron Piggie was controlling a lot of top prospects. But the signing of freshmen Nick Collision, Drew Gooden and Kirk Hinrich restored his faith in recruiting, and ol Roy’s last two Jayhawk teams returned to the Final Four.

At UNC, a similar scenario could be unfolding with the new conundrum over taking one-year players. Last season, the Tar Heels were caught short on talent after losing four starters to the first round of the 2012 NBA draft. They had more than nine losses (25-11) for the second time in four years or since the 2010 team went 20-17 after losing four more starters to the NBA.

No player averaged 15 points last season, with Bullock, P.J. Hairston and James Michael McAdoo hovering around 14 ppg. Like during the dip at KU, that also shows a lack of star power, and the Tar Heels will be counting on Hairston and McAdoo to step up their games and become big-time scorers this coming season.

Carolina has certainly been close recently, reaching two Elite Eight games and avoiding disaster last season by going to a four-guard lineup and shooting more three-pointers than usual. But Williams needs to follow through on the pattern he set at Kansas – that is, rebounding from a mediocre stretch by recruiting and/or developing some true college stars and getting back to more Final Fours.

And, if they should meet again, kick KU’s butt.


Feature image by Todd Melet

Kansas, Kansas, Kansas (Ugh!)

It had to be Kansas. Kansas. Kansas.

Roy Williams may be over the heartbreak and heartache his leaving Lawrence caused in 2003, but it’s just getting worse with me. The tweets, emails and blog posts are already out there, claiming that Bill Self has built a better program at KU than ol’ Roy has at UNC over the last 10 years.

Statistics don’t show that (they’re pretty damn even, in fact), but the fact that Tar Heels have now gone home at the hands of the Jayhawks in three of the last six NCAA Tournaments makes it seem that way to a lot of basketball fans.

Both programs have been great all the way back to the Phog Allen and Frank McGuire eras, each having blip periods that caused them to change coaches. But the last 10 years have been basically even-steven, certainly close enough to disavow any notion that one guy has out-coached the other.

Kansas and Self have won more games and have a better record (300-58 for 84%) than Carolina and Williams (282-79 for 78%), but that is largely due to several factors over that 10-year span.

One, Self took over a Kansas team that Williams left in sounder shape than the one Roy inherited from Matt Doherty. Two, the Tar Heels had one dreadful season in the last 10 years, the 20-17 debacle that followed losing four starters off the 2009 national champions. And, three, Carolina’s overall pipeline to the pros has been better than Self’s at Kansas, which ironically has made it worse for UNC.

Thirteen players have been drafted in the first round during the Williams era, 11 of them who left a total of 17 seasons on the Tar Heel table. Compare that to Kansas under Self, which has produced nine first-round picks,   one who left after one year, two who left after two and another two who left after three seasons. If you add Mario Chalmers, the MOP of the 20008 Final Four who was drafted in the second round, the Jayhawks have lost 10   seasons of eligibility in the last 10 years.

As for the NCAA Tournament, Self and Kansas have been there all 10 years but with less results than Carolina and Williams in nine trips. KU has one national championship (’08) and reached another Final Four (2012) and could still improve on those numbers this season. The Jayhawks have gone out in three regional finals, one Sweet Sixteen (and counting), one second round ouster and two embarrassing first-round upsets (Bucknell and Bradley in 2005 and ’06).

Carolina under Williams has those 2005 and ’09 NCAA titles, one other Final Four and three Elite Eight game goners. Sunday’s loss to KU was the third second-round ouster for UNC and Williams, who holds the record of 23 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances with at least one victory. Both Self and Williams have won three national Coach of the Year honors at their current schools.

Their conference records are pretty close, with Self winning a few more regular-season and tournament titles in the Big 12 than Williams in the ACC. But, over that 10 years, the ACC has been the better league top to bottom and won three national championships to KU’s one for the Big 12.

So don’t give me that hoo-ha that Kansas has a better program than Carolina. They are both great. What skews the pooch are those three losses to KU in the three NCAA match-ups, and each one has a story to itself.

At the 2008 Final Four at San Antonio, the Tar Heels were a slight favorite over Kansas after winning both the ACC regular season and tournament and losing only two games all season. But this was the first time Williams faced Kansas, the still-angry KU crowd and all the storylines took away from the game itself.

The Heels played horribly, fell behind by 40-12 in the first half and made a late push that fell short in the 84-68 crusher. Williams (wearing the infamous KU sticker) stayed to watch the Jayhawks win the national championship two nights later, only after Memphis did not foul Kansas with a three-point lead and Chalmers’ dramatic bomb sent the game into overtime.

When the 2012 NCAA brackets came out, Carolina was on another collision course with Kansas in the Midwest Regional, hoping to have John Henson back at full strength from the wrist he sprained in the ACC Tournament. Of course, it got worse after Kendall Marshall went down in the second-round win over Creighton. With back-up point guard Dexter Strickland already sidelined by a knee injury, the Tar Heels were left with freshman reserve Stilman White, who played admirably in the 13-point loss to the Jayhawks in St. Louis.

The committee did it again this season, when it was an even worse scenario for Carolina, which lost two sophomores, one junior and one senior from its 2012 starting lineup that when whole was the only serious threat to Kentucky’s national championship. And the suits sent the Tar Heels to Kansas City (which is like playing Carolina in Greensboro).

By then, UNC had made the NCAA Tournament only due to perhaps Williams’ best coaching job of his 25-year career. Reluctantly, in early February, he scrapped his two low-post offense for a small lineup of four guards and little presence in the paint. The Heels launched and made enough three-pointers to turn their season around and get another NCAA bid, but they went to the Dance living by the long bomb, which was enough to give Williams the hives.

And, yes, they died that way, shooting barely 30 percent for the game and giving in to Kansas’ best half of the tournament thus far. So Carolina under Williams is 0-3 against KU and Self. And, since they will never play in the regular season by mutual consent, it will stay that way until the next time they meet in the NCAA tournament.

With at least five guys 6-9 or bigger next season, Williams will go back to the way he likes to play and, sooner or later, he’ll see his old school again. The NCAA committee seems to like that kind of theater for TV.

Even though, as of this moment, we hate it.


All photography in Hoop It Up is provided by Todd Melet.

Part of 'A Unique Family' has been publishing excerpts from Return To The Top on the 20th Anniversary of Dean Smith’s 2nd NCAA title season in 1993. Check the “Hoop it Up” section for all the excerpts from this fantastic series. 

By George Lynch, UNC ‘93

In the end, the coaching staff had a lot to do with how all of our talents and personalities meshed together so well. Assistant Coaches Bill Guthridge, Phil Ford, Randy Weil and Dave Hanners all had that competitive spirit that means so much during the course of a long and tiring season.

Before or after every practice, Coach Ford would often challenge one of us to a game of H-O-R-S-E or something just to keep us sharp, to keep us humble and to remind us that he could still play. He liked to point out that he’s the one with the No. 12 hanging in the rafters!

Sometimes when we played H-O-R-S-E at the Smith Center, he would first tell me to go stand on the baseline, turn around and look up. Then he’d say, “Okay, whose name and number do you see up there?” That was his way of trying to psyche us out, but it was also something that the guys got a kick out of. We laughed about it, but we always knew that being remembered – especially at a school like Carolina – was one of the highest honors you could achieve. We knew that winning the NCAA Tournament would give us that opportunity, and that was our ultimate goal.

The next year, when they had our national championship banner hanging up there, I wanted to come back and play Coach Ford one more time. Before we played, I was going to make him walk over to our corner of the Smith Center, turn around and look up. Then it was going to be me asking, “What do you see?” That’s something we’ll always tease each other about.

But the truth is Coach Ford and the rest of the staff had an important part on this team, too – showing up for practice every day, enthusiastic and ready to work hard. That’s the way it is here and that’s the way it should be. Whether you’re the head coach, an assistant, a manager, a star player or the last guy on the bench, you know that you played an important role in our success.

As soon as you come into this program, you feel like you’re part of something important, something unique. You realize there’s a lot of history and pride on the line every time you put on a Carolina uniform. It’s like it’s your duty – and privilege at the same time – to try to carry on the tradition that was built here before you. During the season, many of the former players called just to encourage us. We talked to Kenny Smith, J.R. Reid, Steve Bucknall, Ranzino Smith and just about all of the guys who played here in the last few years. Everyone wanted to keep in touch just to see how you’re doing. Sometimes they’d call to give us a few pointers or to tell us what to expect at a certain point, but the main thing was just to wish us luck and say they were all pulling for us to have a great season.

It’s no joke when people talk about the unique atmosphere that surrounds the Carolina basketball program. The minute you sign a letter of intent to attend the University of North Carolina, you’re part of a big family. When you’re not going well, they’re all there for you and willing to help in any way they can. The other side of that is when you win, you win for yourself and your team – but you win for the rest of your family, too.

It was a great feeling at the end, watching Coach Smith cut down the nets in New Orleans. He’s the man who held this family together over all these years. Our team had been through some tough times with Coach. We played hard every year I was at Carolina, and we had nothing to be ashamed about, but it was definitely hard watching Duke win those back-to-back national championships. After that, I think Coach Smith and the players all felt it was time for North Carolina to win another one. Winning conference championships and regular-season titles were nice, but that’s pretty much common ground around here now. It was time for something different, something bigger, and we did it.

Ten years from now, when you look at the history of Carolina basketball or the history of the Final Four, we’ll be there. All of us – Scott, Matt, Henrik, Travis Stephenson – the whole crew. The great wins over Arkansas and Cincinnati, and then Kansas and Michigan; they’ll all be there forever. When we’re sitting back many years from now, watching Carolina teams in the future, we’ll be able to tell our kids and our grandchildren about the time we were there, about the time we won it all.

The original Senior Diaries were  b   y Travis Stephenson, Matt Wenstrom, Scott Cherry, Henrik Rodl and George Lynch, as told to contributing editor Lee Pace.

Quick Hits Around Washington

Washington, DC

– Former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, didn’t take long to cause a commotion once out of office. Her office released causing rumors predicting a 2016 run to gain further traction. The new site, launched January 30th, is undergoing further development, though it is worth noting that now forwards to this new URL.

– New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has been making the media rounds this week, appearing on David Letterman’s The Tonight Show on Monday night, drawing praise from the notoriously liberal, Letterman, for his wonderful work in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. Christie, who has been critical of his own party’s leadership, has recently become a very vocal voice for bi-partisanship and is now an overwhelming favorite to be re-elected to the same office in 2013. When asked if he would run for President in 2016, Christie said that when he last polled his family, it was 6 votes to none for NOT running. He plans to re-evaluate their stance moving forward.

– The Wall Street Journal published an article on Kansas Governor, Sam Brownback, and his “Red-State Model” that he hopes will generate momentum for the party in future years. With the stable of appealing candidates is in short supply, Brownback hopes that his state’s success of slashing the budget (and taxes), weaning people off entitlements and the ensuing strong jobs record will move people to the economic right. Meanwhile, states like North Carolina are likely headed in a similar policy direction, according to Brownback.

– Barack Obama continues his dual-threat ground game this week in Minneapolis (on Monday) as he pushes for greater gun control measures. Obama was in Nevada last week to launch his immigration reform push. Both issues are hot topics in North Carolina. 41.3% of North Carolina households self-reported having a gun in 2012, while 25% of NC’s population growth in the last 20 years can be attributed to Latinos (according to the NC Governor’s office).

Have a question about what’s going on in Washington? Let us know.


Ryan Watts is a Chapel Hill native and recent UNC graduate in Political Science and Business Administration. Now living in Washington DC, he works as a Consultant. You can find him on Twitter @RyanVWatts or at his blog.

image by paul-w via flickr