One way or the other, this will be one of those benchmark basketball seasons for folks who believe Roy Williams wins big only when he can hit opposing teams over the head with a fistful of NBA first-round draft picks.
The North Carolina mens basketball coach will begin his 10th season at his alma mater with only player sophomore forward James Michael McAdoo rated as a certain first-rounder in the 2013 NBA draft.
Junior wingman Reggie Bullock is listed by most of the scouting services as a likely first-rounder and several other Tar Heels are routed as eventual first-round possibilities.
But compared to many recent seasons, the Heels talent level is down.
After losing four players in the 2012 draft senior Tyler Zeller and three underclassmen Carolina fans are anticipating a season much like 2005-06, when the Heels went 23-8 (12-4 ACC) after losing four players from the 2005 NCAA title team to the pros.
Williams doesnt mind such comparisons.
That was the most fun Ive ever had coaching, he said.
But theres one big difference. That 2005-06 team had freshman Tyler Hansbrough but barely stopped Murray State in its first NCAA tournament game before losing to George Mason.
Clearly it was a masterful job by Williams, who was voted league coach of the year.
And yet, Williams and his players left Dayton, Ohio, after the 65-60 loss to George Mason convinced they had let a decent chance to reach the Final Four slip away.
They were right, too. George Mason, seeded 11th, went on to win the regional by knocking off No. 1 Connecticut. No. 2 regional seed Tennessee and No. 4 Illinois, like Carolina (No. 3), went out in their second games.
Faced with a similar inexperience after Hansbrough led the 2009 team to an NCAA title, Williams provided his critics with some fodder when his 2010 team failed to land an NCAA bid and stumbled to 5-11 in the ACC. Only a late-season run to the National Invitation Tournament title game salvaged a pinch of pride.
With a freshman Marcus Paige at point guard and a rebuilt interior, this Carolina team more resembles 2009-10 than 2005-06. Unless, that is, McAdoo is a new Hansbrough.
If the recruit rankings are on target, Williams talent pool is not overwhelming by past standards. Most of the class rankings put the freshman class Paige, forwards J.P. Tokoto and Brice Johnson and center Joel James in the national Nos. 10-15 range. No one in the group was rated as a top-25 player, much less top-10.
This season will be an adventure for Williams, 62. On paper, he doesnt have Final Four material. For that matter, he doesnt really have regional top-four seed material.
Its rare that a Carolina basketball team has an opportunity to overachieve, but this is one.