LAS VEGAS -- There are lots of reasons Roy Williams was able to lead North Carolina to three national championships at his alma mater. Part of it was consistently great recruiting. Part of it was that he was just a damn-fine coach. But another part of it was quite clearly a devotion to certain principles that were almost always present in what North Carolina did.
Some of those principles no longer exist.
It was obvious again Saturday.
Things were never competitive.
No. 21 Kentucky outworked and outplayed North Carolina basically from start to finish while becoming the latest team to take advantage of the Tar Heels' undeniable weaknesses -- at least one of which used to be a strength annually. In 18 years under Williams, North Carolina finished in the top 25 in offensive-rebounding percentage 16 times, in the top 10 eight times, and in the top five five times.
UNC finished first in that category twice -- including last season.
Williams stressed offensive rebounding, taught offensive rebounding and produced a team that typically dominated opponents on the offensive glass, often by playing two traditional bigs together. It was a constant for nearly two decades. So it was striking, on Saturday, to watch North Carolina play nearly the entire first half without grabbing a single offensive rebound while Kentucky -- this season's best offensive-rebounding team, by the way -- overwhelmed the Tar Heels with one second-chance opportunity after another. By the time it was over, North Carolina had missed 30 shots and grabbed just six offensive rebounds for an offensive-rebounding rate of 20%. By the time was over, Kentucky had missed 33 shots and grabbed 17 offensive rebounds for an offensive-rebounding rate of 51.5%.
That doesn't tell the whole story.
But it does tell a lot of it.
"The coaches told us that they were the best offensive-rebounding team; they told us that right before the game and in all of the practices leading up to this," said North Carolina big Armando Bacot. "We knew that. But then, right away, they came out getting four or five offensive rebounds in the first few possessions."
UK had 11 offensive rebounds in the first half.
UNC had ... three.
Again North Carolina was consistently one of the best offensive-rebounding teams, if not the best offensive-rebounding team, in the country under Williams. But in the first season after his retirement, following Saturday's performance, the Tar Heels now rank 145th nationally in that category, according to KenPom.com. Even more concerning is that North Carolina now also ranks 96th in adjusted defensive-efficiency, according to KenPom. What that means is that Davis is at risk of having a worse defensive team and a worse offensive-rebounding team in Year One than Williams ever had in 18 years at North Carolina.
That's the kind of stuff that makes folks ask big questions.
It's important to note, and remember, that it's not even Christmas yet. Most of the season remains in front of the 8-3 Tar Heels. There's still plenty of time to get right. So I wouldn't rule anything out. But there's no avoiding the fact that North Carolina is -- after being ranked 19th in The Associated Press Preseason Top 25 poll -- just 1-3 against top-100 KenPom opponents with blowout losses to Tennessee and Kentucky, the latter of which was a 29-point defeat that represents the most lopsided margin in a game between these two blue-blood programs since UK beat UNC by 39 in 1950. North Carolina is down to 37th at KenPom and 59th at BartTorvik.com (if you remove the preseason bias from that algorithm). Based purely on the current numbers, making the NCAA Tournament is far from a sure thing and arguably an unlikely scenario.
Davis, to his credit, ducked none of this in Saturday's postgame press conference. He expressed frustration with his team's energy and effort, took responsibility for its shortcomings, and even described himself as "shocked" by what he'd just watched. He more or less said the right things.
Now we get to see if he can do the right things.
A relatively weak ACC should help keep the season from going too far in the wrong direction, I think. But through 11 games, it should clearly be concerning for UNC fans that the Tar Heels are good at a few things, not very great at many, and really bad at some things that used to be strengths.
The byproduct is a rough start to a new era.
Time will tell if it turns around.