Will Roy Williams get his due if UNC beats Villanova?
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Somewhere along the line, the college basketball public decided that Roy Williams doesn’t rate among the game’s truly great coaches.
He has always been able to recruit, though certain others have done that even better. He has always had the gift of charm, though his “dadgums” and “doggones” don’t seem to play as well with young fans as they do with older ones.
But he has always won, too. He has eight Final Fours — four each at Kansas and North Carolina — and a pair of national championships. Against Villanova on Monday, Williams will shoot for title No. 3. Among active coaches, only Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski and Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim have won more games, and only Krzyzewski has more titles.
Yet Williams has not, it seems, won enough. Good luck finding anyone out there who places Williams at, or even near, the top of his or her list of men’s college coaches.
There’s Krzyzewski. And Kentucky’s John Calipari, Michigan State’s Tom Izzo and Louisville’s Rick Pitino. There’s Williams’ successor at Kansas, Bill Self. Even Boeheim, whose Syracuse squad went down hard against the Tar Heels in Saturday’s national semifinals.
Athlon Sports recently ranked the top 50 coaches in college basketball and saw fit to put nine guys in front of Williams. They include Nos. 7-9 Sean Miller of Arizona, Tony Bennett of Virginia and Gregg Marshall of Wichita State, who — combined — have zero titles and a single Final Four appearance.
Where’s the respect?
There seemed to be a general lack of high regard for Williams’ coaching ability even before the NCAA’s investigation into alleged academic fraud in the North Carolina athletics program became such a widely discussed scandal. Williams was admired when he was at Kansas, but never was he considered the tactician predecessor Larry Brown had been. At UNC, Williams coaches in the shadow of the late Dean Smith.
Tar Heels fans and media often have called Williams’ strategic and personnel moves into question. This season — even as the team worked its way toward a No. 1 tournament seed — there was squawking about guard Marcus Paige being moved off the ball, and about whether or not big man Kennedy Meeks should be in the starting lineup.
Look, when your primary rival is Coack K-led Duke, you’re never going to look great by comparison.
But Williams, 65, is tired of being doubted. He hears and reads the way certain coaches are revered and fawned over by the national media, and — heck, yeah — it sticks in his craw. It probably would bother anyone who’s had so much success, without the reputation to show for it.
“Take this the way it’s intended, [which is[ not to be critical,” Williams told reporters in Houston. “But I’m a hell of a lot smarter about basketball than you guys are. I mean, I’m serious. What do you do after baseball season is over? You cover baseball. What do you do after baseball? You cover football. I don’t take any breaks.”
Krzyzewski is 69. Boeheim is 71. If Williams keeps at it that long, eventually he’ll have the kind of numbers that can’t be denied.
Then again, at least on paper, it would seem he already does.
PREVIEW CAPSULE: VILLANOVA (2) VS. NORTH CAROLINA (2)
The facts: Monday, 8:19 p.m., TBS.
The line: North Carolina by 2½.
The outlook: Villanova is coming off a performance that was as close to perfect as you’ll ever see. The team’s 44-point margin of victory over Oklahoma — the new record for a national semifinal — wasn’t even the best part. What the Wildcats were most pleased with was their collective work in completely shutting down scoring machine Buddy Hield.
What’s so impressive about Jay Wright’s tough-minded team is the way it plays together at both ends of the court. But the Tar Heels are very well-balanced and unselfish, too, particularly at the offensive end.
“We love each other,” said UNC All-American forward Brice Johnson. “We don’t really care who gets the credit.”
Villanova has perimeter scorers and playmakers — Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins, Ryan Arcidiacono — who are playing so well and with such efficiency, it’s scary. UNC’s size, though, will be a major challenge. Daniel Ochefu, the Wildcats’ lone true big man, will have a huge challenge just staying out of foul trouble.
Greenberg’s pick: North Carolina, 76-72.
Follow me on Twitter @slgreenberg.