Thursday, March 1, 2007

Defending Roy...Too Many Players

I'd never really noticed how GroupThink works in sports media before the last week. Carolina is having a great season, especially for anyone with realistic expectations for what you can do with this level of youth. But you know sports talk radio, they've got to find a negative. Carolina's had a few surprising losses. Virginia Tech domintated them, but somehow the loss at Maryland, maybe the hottest team in the country, has suddenly sent the media on a search for the fatal flaw in the tarheels.

Not sure where it started. I'm guessing that it was one writer with influence, but all of the sudden, you can't read a story or turn on the radio without another expert telling you that Roy Williams is blowing it. He's playing too many players. You can't win playing 12 players. Players are too busy worrying about their playing time, they never have time to get in a groove, they never get used to playing within their lineup.

After the Maryland game I didn't hear too many saying these kids made dumb mistakes, need to work on better defense, or that crucial misses at the line are what cost them the game. No, somehow everyone KNOWS the problem with the tarheels is that Roy Williams is playing too many players.

One talk show host, 850theBuzz's Adam Gold even went so far as to say that Coach K with Roy's players would win more games and possibly a championship. I don't believe that for a second. In fact, if you follow it through, looking at K's past behaviours, here is what would happen to the current tarheel team under K

  • Forget Tyler Hansbroughs continued development as a true post player. K has a long history of mis-handling white post players.
  • 3 of the 12 players getting significant minutes now lose all playing time and get ready to transfer.
  • Ellington probably leaves because he doesn't yet play defense to K's standards, so he never gets into the games.
  • K goes down to playing 7 players, kills the running game, and they lose to a running team in the sweet 16 because they are too fatigued to compete.
I believe what Roy Williams is doing right now is not only the right thing, but is a dream of all coaches. I can't tell you how many coaches have started seasons with pronouncements that they are going to run, press, and play 10 players ever game. The problem is, none of the other coaches ever have the guts to do it. They always pull a K and gradually reduce to just playing 7 players. I'd even argue that Roy isn't going far enough, and should be playing truly 2 separate lineups that swap every few minutes, at least for the first half of games just to wear people out.

When you look long term is where you can really see the value of this type of system. If your main rival is Duke, and you expect over the years to sometimes have the need to out-recruit them, think about this. If you are a kid trying to decide between UNC and Duke, which looks better

1) Team where only the best 7 or 8 get major playing time. Team where it is pretty easy to get in the doghouse and disappear for a month at a time. Team where McDonald's All-Americans like Crawford Palmer, Kris Humphries, Chris Burgess, Joey Beard, and Jamal Boykin realize they aren't going to play and leave.


2) Team where 10-12 players get important minutes every game. Period.