Roy Williams went into last season hoping one of his freshmen big men would step forward and emerge as a viable second option in the post, the only way he really enjoys his teams playing. North Carolina ended the season with Luke Maye as his center and a pair of wings – Cam Johnson and Theo Pinson – alternating alongside him.
A year later, Williams is once again hoping one of those now-sophomore big men will step forward and emerge as a viable second option in the post, relieving him of the obligation to veer, yet again, from his preferred style of play.
So far – and this includes not only a few days of practice but a summer trip to the Bahamas – this season is shaping up to be another internal battle for Williams, between pragmatism and dogmatism, between what Williams would do if he had the choice and the eventual realization that he has no choice.
Once again, a Roy divided against himself cannot stand.
He’s got his handicap back in single digits, but will his players not allow him to play the way that has brought him the most consistent success, at both North Carolina and Kansas? Not this four-guard stuff.
“I’m stubborn,” Williams said. “I want to try to play two bigs, but if it’s not what’s best, we’ve done it – I guess if we do it again this year, this would be the third time.”
Two posts. Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks. Tyler Hansbrough and Deon Thompson. Big men. Old school.
Williams has veered away from that before, with P.J. Hairston as the test case, and getting Pinson and Johnson on the floor at the same time was clearly North Carolina’s best lineup a year ago. Even the 2005 team, with the Jawad/Marvin Williams combo alongside Sean May, wasn’t strictly orthodox. But that doesn’t mean Williams has to like it, and it hasn’t been all that effective in the postseason for him in recent years.
Without some kind of preseason statement from Garrison Brooks, Sterling Manley, Brandon Huffman or Walker Miller – and the field is wide open there, with no preference given to anyone other than the one that makes the best claim to the position – it’s going to be another season of small-ball for the Tar Heels, with Johnson as the token second post player in what at the moment appears to be North Carolina’s best lineup (with freshman Nassir Little in Pinson’s spot alongside Kenny Williams and freshman Coby White at the point).
“None of the big guys have stepped forward,” Roy Williams said. “All of them have gotten a little better. But not at the level I want them to get better yet.”
Should someone – probably Brooks or Manley, given their promise and Huffman’s injury issues at the moment – press the issue, Williams will no doubt reevaluate. Given the hype around Little, that will be a high bar to clear.
In the interim, he’s going to have to re-acclimate himself to a season of cognitive dissonance and strategic discomfort if the lineup that sets North Carolina’s best players on the floor happens to be another lineup that sets his teeth on edge.
“If we have to do it, I would still do it,” Williams said. “But I’d feel more comfortable the other way.”
He may not have a choice, unless one of his big men gives him one over the next month.