Every year, college basketball coaches fight for one-and-done recruits. Roy Williams is no exception, but the North Carolina coach hasn’t had a one-and-done player in 10 years. Nevertheless, Williams is back in the national championship for the second time in as many years and the third time since 2009.
How does he do it?
“I think it’s a function of the talent,” former Tar Heel and current Pacers scout Matt Doherty said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “It’s like Villanova. You can win with three- and four-year guys. Coach Williams has gone after the best players, and for various reasons, maybe they haven’t decided to go to North Carolina so he’s gotten maybe the next cut. Instead of the top-10 player, maybe he’s gotten the top-25 player, top-50 player. I think, as proven by Coach Williams, if you get those players (and) develop them, you can win with them. Continuity and maturity is so key this time of year. You look at all four teams in the Final Four – they’re pretty old. They’ve got seniors, they’ve got fifth-year seniors, they’ve got transfers. They’re mature not only physically, but probably more importantly at this point in the season, emotionally.”
North Carolina fell to Villanova, 77-74, in the 2016 national championship, this after Kris Jenkins authored one of the most iconic buzzer-beaters in college basketball history.
Might that moment affect the Tar Heels against Gonzaga on Monday?
“I think it could creep in their minds if there’s a last possession with a tight game again,” Doherty said. “But the disappointment, the hurt, does that motivate you through the season? I think it does a little bit, but it’s an experience that helps you get to the next point. The bottom line is you got to have good talent that plays hard, smart and together. If you do that, as corny as it sounds, (you’ll be successful). Bill Belichick talks about the process. Nick Saban talks about the process, Dean Smith talked about the process. It comes down to one possession at a time. That missed box-out in the first minute of the game impacts the last minute of the game.”
A win would give North Carolina its sixth national championship, but a loss would give North Carolina back-to-back national-title losses. Only four programs have suffered that fate: Ohio State (1961-62), Houston (1983-84), Michigan (1992-93) and Butler (2010-11).
Thus, what happens if the Tar Heels lose? Is their two-year run still a success?
“Anytime you go to a Final Four and you hang a banner, there’s a lot of pride,” Doherty said. “There (would) be disappointment like there was last year, but to be able to go to back-to-back Final Fours, regardless of whether you win one of the championships or not, is something that as a player, as a coach, (you’re proud of). It’s one-and-done. That’s what makes March Madness so great. The best team doesn’t always win.”
Doherty knows from experience. He won a national championship at UNC in 1982, but the Tar Heels might have let one slip away in 1984.
“In ’84, I thought we had the best team in the country,” Doherty said. “Michael Jordan, Sam Perkins, Brad Daugherty, Kenny Smith, myself – we came off the bench with two guys that played in the NBA. We were the best team, but we lost to a young Indiana team. On any given day, anything can happen.”