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ACC Question Marks: Will Hubert Davis Modernize UNC’s System?

It’s a really intriguing scenario

North Carolina Announces Head Coach Hubert Davis
CHAPEL HILL, NC - APRIL 06: Hubert Davis is introduced as the new men’s head basketball coach at the University of North Carolina at Dean E. Smith Center on April 6, 2021 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
Photo by Jeffrey Camarati/Getty Images

We always do pre-season previews late in the summer but there is so much flux that we thought we’d start to look at some of the main question marks for next season in the ACC early. And we don't think there’s a bigger one than Hubert Davis taking over at UNC.

When Roy Williams stepped down, he said he wasn’t sure he was the right man for the job anymore and recommended Davis take over.

UNC is kind of unusual in that it has only had five coaches since 1952, Duke is close with six but Coach K has been there since 1980. No one else has put in more than 10. Most schools have much more turnover. Wake Forest, for instance, has had 10 since 1952. NC State has had eight.

Even more striking, other than Frank McGuire, and arguably Matt Doherty, UNC’s approach has been remarkably consistent. This is largely because of Dean Smith, who is still revered in Chapel Hill, and Roy Williams, who revered him as much as anyone, always and only calling him Coach Smith.

Smith always liked to have two big men, a versatile wing, a point guard and a shooting guard, and his immediate successor, Bill Guthridge, took the same approach. Doherty’s tenure was a train wreck and overshadowed by his personal issues so it’s hard to know how much he would have followed the template Smith set down but he certainly seemed to have a desire to do things his way.

Williams ran more than Smith did but he still kept the template. In fact, one of the main criticisms of Williams in his later years was that his teams didn’t shoot three pointers very well.

So the question now is this: how much will Davis change the template?

Davis, remember, was an outstanding three point shooter at UNC and in the NBA. He may not be as bound to a double-post system as his predecessors were, and we’re pretty sure he’ll put more value on three point shooting than Smith or Williams (or Guthridge) did.

Roster flux means we won’t know who UNC will ultimately have for some time yet but we expect that Armando Bacot, Leaky Black, Caleb Love, Kerwin Walton, Anthony Harris, RJ Davis and Puff Johnson will all be back.

The Tar Heels have also recruited two promising transfers, Oklahoma big man Brady Manek, who can shoot from outside, and Virginia’s Justin McKoy, who hails from nearby Cary.

Freshman so far are Dontrez Styles from Kinston, and D’Marco Dunn, who finished up high school ball in NC but who is from Arizona.

That’s a lot of potential three point shooters: Walton, Davis, Johnson, Manek and possibly both freshmen.

So clearly Davis will have the opportunity to have an outside-in approach, which will make life easier for Bacot and the slashers.

The big question is whether he’ll have go with it.

Our guess is yes. Williams left partly because he felt outdated. Davis, who grew up in a three point world, has no such problem. He may be ideally suited to move UNC towards a more modern, positionless game and it’ll be fascinating to see what he keeps and what he jettisons.

One thing to keep an eye on: last season, UNC was way heavy in the front court. This coming season, with Walton, Davis, Johnson, Black, Love, Styles and Dunn, that imbalance may be reversed.