UNC Basketball: The 9 lowest lows of the Roy Williams era

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - DECEMBER 21: Head coach Roy Williams of the North Carolina Tar Heels reacts after his players turned the ball over against the UCLA Bruins during the CBS Sports Classic at T-Mobile Arena on December 21, 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Tar Heels defeated the Bruins 74-64. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - DECEMBER 21: Head coach Roy Williams of the North Carolina Tar Heels reacts after his players turned the ball over against the UCLA Bruins during the CBS Sports Classic at T-Mobile Arena on December 21, 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Tar Heels defeated the Bruins 74-64. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images) /
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CHAPEL HILL, NC – DECEMBER 27: An angry coach Roy Williams of the North Carolina Tar Heels yells at his team during their game against the UAB Blazers at the Dean Smith Center on December 27, 2014 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images) /

1. The NCAA’s investigation into improper benefits at the University of North Carolina

As painful as the current season is, it doesn’t make the top spot on our list. That’s because the NCAA investigation into the athletic program sits alone at the top. And why? Well, consider that a big reason for the Tar Heels’ current struggles is due to the years-long probe that the school went through regarding academic fraud stemming from alleged ‘paper classes’.

Yes, North Carolina won a national championship in 2017, but that was largely due to the Tar Heels’ 2014 class that signed on prior to the NCAA investigation getting fully underway. That class featured Joel Berry II, Theo Pinson and Justin Jackson, and was ranked No. 10 in the nation. The following year, Roy Williams’ two-man class was ranked 70th in the nation.

Oddly enough, though, it’s that 70th-ranked 2015 class that turned out to be such a special one. Luke Maye and Kenny Williams both outplayed their rankings — No. 155 and No. 96, respectively — and combined with graduate transfer Cameron Johnson, made one heck of a trio for two seasons. Those three players helped stave off the type of season that the Tar Heels are currently muddled in, and here’s why:

In 2016, North Carolina brought in a three-man class that was ranked 14th in the nation. Sounds good, right? Yeah, until you realize that the lone 5-star player in that class, Tony Bradley, unexpectedly left for the NBA after just one season. One of the two 4-star players in the class was Seventh Woods, a greatly overhyped combo guard that really couldn’t shoot well, and didn’t run the point much better. He eventually transferred after a largely unsuccessful stint in Chapel Hill.

That leaves Brandon Robinson, the only remaining member of the Tar Heels’ 2016 class, as the one true senior on the 2019-20 Tar Heels. And while Robinson is a nice player with some ability to hit outside shots, he’s not the type of seasoned senior star we’ve seen in a North Carolina uniform in years past.

The 2017 class was ranked 19th in the nation, but again featured a player that wouldn’t live up to the hype and expectations put on him. Jalek Felton, nephew of former Tar Heel, Raymond Felton, was a fringe 5-star guard that was North Carolina’s heir apparent at point guard position once Joel Berry left. Little did we know at the time, Felton would be gone before Berry, and end up playing basketball overseas just a year after he enrolled at North Carolina. His suspension and departure from the University were as untimely as they were unexpected.

Brandon Huffman, Sterling Manley and Andrew Platek were also members of the Tar Heels’ 2017 class. Huffman has barely gotten off the UNC bench, and Manley has been hurt for the majority of his time at North Carolina. Platek, who was lauded as a terrific three-point shooter, has averaged just 2.1 points and 1.1 rebounds per game in three seasons, and shot 28.4 percent from beyond the arc.

The last member of the 2017 class is Garrison Brooks, who by all accounts, has been an absolute steal. Initially slated to attend Mississippi State, Brooks has developed into a legitimate scoring threat, and a formidable defender. With Anthony out of the lineup, he’s the team’s go-to scorer and rebounder. He’s averaging just shy of a double-double this season, and shooting better than 53 percent from the floor.

In 2018, finally free of the NCAA cloud that had hampered the Tar Heels’ ability to recruit over the past few years, North Carolina welcomed in a pair of 5-star players in Nassir Little and Coby White. White was an absolute star in a UNC uniform, and Little had his moments, too. Alas, they stayed just one season before making the jump to professional basketball, leaving the Tar Heels without a true point guard on their roster.

Thankfully, North Carolina secured a commitment from the top-ranked point guard in the 2019 class, Cole Anthony, but his injury and subsequent surgery have kept him out of all but nine games this season. The Tar Heels were 6-3 with him in the lineup, and 2-7 without. Armando Bacot, the other 5-star member of the Tar Heels’ 2019 class, has been a nice addition to the team. He’s still a young, raw player, though, and has struggled through the typical inconsistencies that freshman often do. Jeremiah Francis and Anthony Harris, as previously stated, have both dealt with injuries and missed massive amounts of playing time this season.

I mention all of this to illustrate a simple point. That point is, that had it not been for the NCAA investigation that lasted the better part of four years, North Carolina wouldn’t be in the midst of its worst season in nearly two decades. Sure, there are players that left earlier than expected, and you obviously can’t anticipate a player being suspended and leaving the school less than a year after he got there, but a lot of this comes down to recruiting. And no, this is not a slight on Roy Williams’ recruiting efforts. It’s a nod to how difficult it was for him to recruit during the NCAA’s probe, which obviously gave his opposition plenty of ammunition to use against him when recruiting top-tier high school prospects.

Next. 5 reasons the Tar Heels will be better in 2020. dark

It’s clear to see the difference in recruiting during the investigation, and since. He’s nabbed four 5-star recruits over the past two seasons, and another three in the 2020 class. But from 2015 to 2017, it was slim pickings. That’s why the Tar Heels’ current junior and senior classes are thin with talent, and that’s a big reason that they’re struggling today.