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A Surprising Prediction

Carolina will return largely intact, and the Tar Heels should be inspired by their first-round tournament loss to
Weber State and the perception that they no longer are
competitive with Duke. Trouble is, they have players more
likely to fit roles than go on rolls and ... they are no longer
competitive with Duke, which is dominating recruiting and
games between the schools.

It's a flattering thing to read, of course, but taking a team with five
freshman, with two of those likely to start, seems a bit of a long shot. 
But the article is largely about perceptions, not necessarily reality. However,
perceptions are important.  Eddie Griffin, who spurned UNC for Seton Hall,
apparently had the same basic idea. He said UNC seemed "cocky," which,
to long time ACC observers, was startling. They've just always been, well,
Carolina, and you underestimated them at your peril. 

But times and perceptions do change. The UNC of Dean Smith replaced the UNC
of Frank McGuire, just as the Duke of Coach K replaced the Duke of Bill Foster,
and the Kentucky of Tubby Smith replaced the Kentucky of Rick Pitino.

It seems that the perception of UNC has changed.  We think the writer
was reaching a bit - role players they may be, but two of them, Lang and
Haywood, are enormous, one of them, Cota,  is the one of the best passers
we've seen, and Jason Capel is indeed a role player but a very smart and very
solid player. And Ron Curry, if he continues to play hoops, is one of the best
athletes anywhere, period.  And Joe Forte has the capacity to be that
rarest of Heels, a player who is not just really gifted but genuinely liked by
fans from other schools, a la Hubert Davis.

Anyway, don't get carried away by the predictions, but do pay attention to
how UNC is regarded.  This column, with the same players, wouldn't have
been written four years ago. It would have had a corollary saying something like
this: "But opponents beware: Dean Smith loves teams like this and will find
a way to squeeze 25 wins and a trip at least to the Elite Eight."

No more. Guthridge, as we've said before, is a good man and an underrated
coach, but he's in a very tough situation following his former boss, who was, if
you take the word of UNC fans, the best coach ever.  That's a perception
too - we'd say Wooden was at least as good, and has the Titles to prove it - but
as we said, this column is important because of perceptions, not
realities.  It's a conundrum. UCLA went through it for years with several coaches, and Joe B. Hall never was accepted as a good coach in his own right.