Tar Heels can look forward to next year

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Despite a tailspin unlike any other he has experienced in his coaching career, Roy Williams isn't ready to turn the page.

"I still haven't had that thought of wanting the season to end," he said on Saturday following a 71-67 loss at Boston College. "If that's my only salvation, then I'm a sorry coach."

North Carolina lost for the sixth time in the past seven games on Saturday afternoon against a Boston College team that will be fortunate just to get into the NIT.

"It's the most frustrating time I've ever had," Williams said.

Williams had visions of his team's running off five consecutive wins to finish 8-8 in ACC play and get back into the NCAA tournament conversation.

Now, the only manner in which the Tar Heels can dance into the real deal rather than the NIT is if they run the table in the ACC tourney.

"We've got to win the tournament," UNC freshman John Henson said. "It's life or death."

I hope that's not the case because, even in a down year in the ACC, it's not going to happen.

"Right now, we've got a lot of holes to fill, and we don't have enough fingers," Williams said.

Perimeter shooting.



Lack of a go-to guy.

Point-guard play.

It's a laundry list of deficiencies and one that appears too late to be corrected this season.

But next year could -- and should -- be a different story.

Enter a freshman class that includes the nation's top-rated player, versatile forward Harrison Barnes, scoring wing Reggie Bullock and heady point guard Kendall Marshall.

Barnes and Bullock are both able to make shots from beyond the arc, and Barnes can fill the leadership void and will also instantly become a go-to guy.

Marshall is an upgrade over current floor leader Larry Drew II, but he's not exactly a jet a la Ty Lawson or Raymond Felton.

"We're North Carolina," freshman guard Dexter Strickland said. "We're always going to have talent."

The Tar Heels certainly won't be 14-13 and 3-9 in the ACC on Feb. 20, 2011.

But North Carolina fans may be putting a lot on the shoulders of Barnes, who is expected to come in and be a savior of sorts.

"We've got a lot of work to do. No question," fifth-year senior Marcus Ginyard said when asked whether the Tar Heels would be back in contention for a national title next season. "They're going to have talent, but they have to grow a great deal between now and then in terms of mental toughness."

The Tar Heels lose Ginyard, who has become a shell of himself because of  countless injuries, and offensive-minded big man Deon Thompson, who hasn't shown the propensity to lead or carry this Tar Heels club.

The front line has the potential to be as dominant as any in the nation, but then again, some said that entering this season with a group that included Thompson, Ed Davis, Tyler Zeller and heralded freshman Henson.

Whether Davis returns for his junior season or bolts to the NBA, Williams will have enough options up front.

Barnes gives them a true small forward, and Henson is far more comfortable and effective at power forward. Bullock and Strickland will likely compete for minutes at shooting guard.

The key comes at point guard, where Drew and Marshall will likely hold the key to whether or not the Tar Heels can get back.

But Williams won't get caught up in next year.

"I've got to coach these kids as hard as I can," he said. "Because some of these guys are going to be back next year."

Next season, Williams will have 10 McDonald's All-Americans on his roster.

But there are seven on this season's team and look what happened.

It doesn't mean anything, especially for a program like North Carolina, where kids become McDonald's All-Americans because they sign with the Tar Heels.

"I can't wait 'til next year," Williams added.

It can't be any worse than this one.