What at one point looked like it might be a nice, quiet spring around these parts – our local basketball teams all having checked out early from the NCAA tournament – has taken its usual unexpected turn.
The surprising departure of James Michael McAdoo from North Carolina and the less surprising exit of Tyler Lewis from N.C. State left those programs in similar positions to Duke, which will surely lose Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood. Now all three schools have questions to answer.
The Tar Heels weren’t expecting to have any: McAdoo had twice passed on the NBA draft from what might have been more advantageous positions. With McAdoo, North Carolina would have entered the season among the national-title contenders. Fortunately for North Carolina, the Tar Heels are in a far better position to make up for McAdoo’s absence than they were losing P.J. Hairston.
That’s primarily because of Kennedy Meeks’ second-half development in the post. If Brice Johnson can do anything to improve his defense – and given his 6-foot-9 size and shot-blocking ability, his issues are almost entirely mental – the Tar Heels will be set at forward, with Isaiah Hicks primed for a step forward as well after a surprisingly quiet freshman year.
Throw in the sublime Marcus Paige and two talented incoming freshmen on the wings – Justin Jackson and Greensboro’s Theo Pinson – and this will look far more like a classic Roy Williams team than the past two, and Williams is always better off when he has the right pieces to fit his system.
A bunch of pieces is what Mark Gottfried has left at N.C. State, with T.J. Warren’s move to the NBA imminent, and he’ll have to fit them together. Lewis won’t be among them. His connection with Warren moved him into the starting lineup ahead of freshman Cat Barber, but it’ll be Barber’s team to run from the point next year
Barber will be even more of a threat if he can hone the pull-up jumper that was so effective in the ACC tournament. Alabama transfer Trevor Lacey steps into the backcourt and recruit Abdul-Malik Abu joins the three freshmen big men who showed so much improvement this season: BeeJay Anya, Kyle Washington and Lennard Freeman. They’ll all have to share the load after Warren carried so much of it this season.
Duke has been expecting major turnover since Parker walked onto campus, and while he hasn’t announced his departure yet, it is most certainly a foregone conclusion. In place of Parker and Hood, the Blue Devils will build around forward Jahlil Okafor and point guard Tyus Jones. This is all expected; this season’s quick NCAA tournament exit and the questions it raised were not.
Mike Krzyzewski insists one-and-done players are not fundamentally incompatible with the foundation upon which his program has been built. The results so far are not impressive, but it may be best not to pass judgment too quickly. Only five years ago, there was a compelling argument to be made that Krzyzewski’s involvement with the U.S. Olympic team was negatively impacting Duke. That 2010 season, he won his fourth national title.
Not to be left out, the fourth of the Big Four has finally settled on a replacement for Jeff Bzdelik, with Wake Forest bringing Danny Manning back to the Triad, where he grew up. Manning learned from Kansas coach Bill Self at his alma mater and did well in his two years as the coach at Tulsa. He may not be one of the big names Demon Deacon fans were lusting after, but Manning has the potential to be a long-term fit at Wake Forest.
After the near-insurrection among fans at the end of Bzdelik’s tenure, wondering if and when athletics director Ron Wellman would ever pull the trigger, it will be a relief for everyone if that is one question that won’t have to be asked again.