UNC In 2013: A Good Time To Be A Tar Heel

Jamie Squire

The perennially high expectations in Chapel Hill will tinge this season with mediocrity, which is unfortunate. Because this was a much more successful year than it will ever get credit for being--and because right now is actually a really good time to be a Heels fan.

Posterity's critics will point to 11 losses on the season, forgetting that we only dropped four games to teams outside the RPI's Top 7 (same as Duke) and that we didn't lose to a team ranked lower than 9th in the country for the final two months of the season (Duke dropped three to unranked opponents over the same span).

They'll remember losing twice to Duke, forgetting that we were four minutes away from winning the ACC Tournament, making it two rounds further than the Devils in their favorite tournament.

They'll remember the Round of 32 exit, forgetting how Roy displayed once again his uncanny ability to have his team playing its best ball at the end of the season, and that the win that got us into that Round of 32 marked number 700 for Roy and extended his first-round win streak to 23-0 with one of the most questionable seedings in recent memory (would have been nice to get that 7-seed in the South this year instead of the 8).

They'll also likely forget that we accomplished all these things during a season that was supposed to be a "rebuilding" year, at best, and one that would likely rival 2010 for futility, according to many early-season prognosticators. That we accomplished it all starting two sophomores and a freshman point guard, while using exactly one senior and all of three upperclassmen in our eleven-man rotation.

If we can measure success by comparison, the only other team to lose four starters to the first round of the Draft last year also lost in he first round of the NIT this year. The Heels took the same hit and still managed to finish as one of the best 32 teams in the country (top 18, if you go by RPI).

Any way you look at it, when you can finish third in the conference, make the ACC Tournament final, and have a legitimate shot at the Sweet 16 in a down year, that's pretty successful.

But the highest points of this season were probably the ones that transcend numbers. The development of Marcus Paige throughout the season and the development of P. J. Hairston from last season to this one can only be described in positive terms. As we look one or, hopefully, even two years into the future, these could be two of the best players in the country. And it boils down to one thing: toughness. Something that has been sorely missing since Lawson, Green, and Hansbrough left in 2009.

We can all appreciate the assets Dexter Strickland brought to the court, but it's hard to deny the relief and excitement inherent in our anticipation of the day that Dexter Strickland's team becomes Marcus Paige and P. J. Hairston's (via Reggie Bullock and James McAdoo). Today, we are on the verge of that transition.

Looking ahead, optimism abounds.

After the Kansas game, a return to a post-oriented attack cannot come soon enough for many Heels fans--perhaps none moreso than Roy himself--and maybe Joel James with another summer under his belt and newcomer Kennedy Meeks (a consensus Top 5 center, though a little short at 6-9) provides some hope for the post game.

But the lineup I'm looking forward to early (should all our guys return) is Paige, Bullock, Hairston, Isaiah Hicks, and McAdoo. Hicks is another traditional Roy Williams slight-but-athletic five-star power forward (6-8, 210). He's not the near-seven-footer we'd like manning the post, but anyone who puts up 34 points, 30 rebounds, and 7 blocks to win their state championship probably has some semblance of an inside game.

A starting five with three deadly shooters on the perimeter, two excellent perimeter rebounders, five athletes that can run the floor, and someone to take some of the load off of McAdoo inside could be very fun to watch and very tough to defend. Combine that with Leslie McDonald's offense and any combination of post players coming off the bench, and next season starts to give us a lot to look forward to.

I said at the outset of the season that if we managed one win against Duke and a trip to the Sweet 16 this year, then the majority of Heels fans would be ecstatic.

There's no ecstasy here today, but we got about as close as this team could come, and we got more out of this season than most of us expected.

Here's to hoping that when we commit the successes of 2014 and 2015 to memory, we don't forget the successes of 2013 that led us there.

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