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Heel Tough Blog: Evaluating Hubert Davis

Hubert Davis is set to begin his third season as the head coach of Carolina Basketball, and after an up-and-down first two seasons on the job, the pressure is on Davis entering 2023-24. His first season, was arguably as magical as any for any first-time head coach in the history of college basketball, making the national title game as an 8 seed, all while beating their arch-rival on the sport's biggest stage. Coupled with the run to the national title game, was the fact that Carolina blew the largest lead in the history of the title game, as the Tar Heels ran out of gas, losing to Kansas in the final. After losing in the national championship game, Carolina returned four starters, and were the favorites to win it all last season, instead, they didn’t even qualify for the NCAA Tournament, the first time the preseason #1 team did so since the tournament field expanded in 1985. Whether Davis will admit it or not, or even AD Bubba Cunningham for that matter, the pressure is on Davis to restore the basketball program, because the last head coach to miss back-to-back NCAA Tournaments, wasn’t asked back for a fourth season.

Now this isn’t an article stating that Hubert Davis is coaching for his job in 2023-24, more so an opportunity for us to look at all that he’s accomplished, as compared to every coach since Frank McGuire arrived in Chapel Hill, and really laid the foundation for the greatest college basketball program in America, as a way to properly evaluate, Davis’s first two season on the job.


Frank McGuire:

McGuire arrived in Chapel Hill after he left his alma mater (St. John’s), in 1952, a year after leading the Red Storm to the Final Four. McGuire’s first season at UNC was the program’s last season in the Southern Conference before Carolina would leave to be a founding member of the ACC. McGuire led Carolina to a respectable 17-10 record, including going 15-6 in conference play, and he got the Tar Heels to as high as #12 in the polls. Now back in those times, only a handful of teams made the NCAA Tournament, and you had to win your conference tournament to even qualify. In 1953-54, Carolina’s first season in the ACC, wasn’t a good one, as the Tar Heels went 11-10 overall, and they finished 5th in the conference, with a 5-6 record. In totality, McGuire was 27-20 on the job in his first two seasons, which works out to a 58% winning percentage, with zero NCAA Tournament appearances, or even a trip to the NIT, which was held in high regard back then. McGuire would lead Carolina to their first NCAA title in 1957, leading the Tar Heels to a perfect 32-0 record, paving the way for basketball to become the more prominent sport on campus over football.

Sports Illustrated

Dean Smith:

Dean Smith became the head coach of Carolina Basketball, in 1961-62, a full four seasons after Frank McGuire led the Tar Heels to an undefeated record and a national championship. Now Coach Smith inherited a program that was on NCAA probation after McGuire’s recruiting practices, and it hindered the program from both a recruiting standpoint and even a scheduling perspective. Smith would start out his legendary career, with the only losing season of his 36 seasons on the bench, as his Tar Heels went 8-9, including 7-7 in ACC play. His second season, unlike Frank McGuire’s, showed much improvement, as he led Carolina to an improved 15-6, and even got the program ranked back inside the top 10, and a third place in the ACC, with a 10-4 mark. So like McGuire, Smith failed to guide the Tar Heels to either an NCAA Tournament or NIT appearance. His first two seasons saw him compile a 22-13 record, a 63% winning percentage. As you know, Smith would go on to win 879 games, take the program to 11 Final Fours, two national championships, and a combined 30 ACC championships.

UNC Athletics

Bill Guthridge:

After Coach Smith led the program for 36 seasons, he turned it over to his trusted assistant Bill Guthridge, after he turned down many head coaching jobs, to stay on Smith’s bench as an assistant. There aren’t many first-time head coaches that are given a Final Four ready team, but that is exactly what Guthridge inherited, as Vince Carter, Antwan Jamison, and Ed Cota, led the Tar Heels to a 34-4 record, an ACC Tournament title, and a trip to the Final Four, where Carolina would lose to Utah. In Guthridge’s second season, the program took a step back in the win column, as they went 24-10, and would exit the NCAA Tournament in the first round, after getting upset by No. 14 seed, Weber State. By the time Guthridge became the head coach, the sport had changed dramatically, as they played almost double the amount of games in the regular season. Guthridge compiled a 58-14 record during his first two seasons, giving him an 81% winning percentage. Guthridge would coach one more season, leading Carolina to another Final Four, before losing to Florida. During his three seasons on the bench, Guthridge would compile an 80-28 record (74%), and took the program to multiple Final Fours, as he guided Carolina Basketball, to one of the best three-year stretches in program history.

The North State Journal

Matt Doherty:

After the retirement of Bill Guthridge, Carolina Basketball looked to Matt Doherty to usher in the next era of basketball in Chapel Hill. After spending time on Roy Williams’ bench at Kansas, Doherty impressed in one season at Notre Dame, and after Roy Williams turned down the job, Doherty emerged as the guy to lead the program. His first season, was a rousing success, highlighted by a 18-game winning streak, including a road win in Cameron Indoor Stadium, as he led Carolina to a 26-7 record, got as high as #1 in the AP poll, and an ACC regular season title. The regular season success wouldn’t carry over to the postseason, as Carolina got blown out by Duke in the ACC Tournament final, followed by an early exit in the NCAA Tournament, getting upset in the second round by Penn State. Unfortunately for Doherty, this would be his best season as Carolina’s head coach. The next season, saw Carolina put together the worst season in program history, as they went 8-20 after they failed to adequately replace Joseph Forte and Brendan Haywood. Doherty’s first two seasons saw him compile a 34-27 record, a 56% winning percentage. Despite leading Carolina to an ACC regular season title, and a berth in the NCAA Tournament, his winning percentage was lower than McGuire after their first two seasons. Doherty would guide Carolina to a 19-16 season the following season, but after missing back-to-back NCAA Tournaments, he wasn’t asked back for a fourth season, paving the way for Roy Williams to return home.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Roy Williams:

After a successful run at Kansas, Williams couldn’t turn down North Carolina a second time, and returned home to restore the proud program, after the Doherty experience. With Raymond Felton and Sean May a year older, Carolina would return to its winning ways, going 19-11, and despite going just 8-8 in the ACC, the Tar Heels returned to the NCAA Tournament, where Carolina would ultimately advance to the second round, before falling to Texas. The next season, with every player back, and the addition of Marvin Williams, Carolina would start the season, preseason #1, and they would more than live up to the hype. The Tar Heels would put together a 33-4 record, win the ACC regular season title, return to the Final Four, and ultimately win the fifth NCAA title, taking down Illinois in a classic. Williams’s first two seasons, saw him restore the program and put together a 52-15 record, a 78% winning percentage, just behind Bill Guthridge’s 81% after two seasons. During his time at UNC, Williams would win 418 games, three national championships, appear in 5 Final Fours, and multiple ACC titles.

Sports Illustrated

Hubert Davis:

Finally, we have made it to Carolina’s current head coach, who like many others before him, experienced an up-and-down first two seasons. Year One under Davis saw Carolina upset Duke in the final game of Coach K’s career at Cameron, and the win pushed Carolina off the NCAA Tournament bubble, and into the field. As an #8 seed, the Tar Heels would make a run all the way to the Final Four, just like in 2000, where they would take down Duke, in the first-ever meeting in the NCAA Tournament. In the championship game, Carolina would ultimately fall to Kansas, after blowing the largest halftime lead in championship game history. The 29-10 record, qualified for the second most wins by a first-year head coach, behind the 34 wins of Bill Guthridge. After losing in the title game, Carolina returned four starters and was the preseason #1 team, entering the 2022-23 season. Carolina would fail to recreate the same magic from the previous season, limping to a 20-13 season, as the Tar Heels became the first team to start preseason #1, and the NCAA Tournament, since the field expanded in 1985. Davis has started his UNC career with a 49-23 record, a 68% winning percentage, and a trip to the Final Four to his ledger, but like Doherty, the pressure is on to return to the NCAA Tournament.

Davis won more games than McGuire, Smith, and Doherty all did in their first two seasons, and a trip to the Final Four puts him in the same category as Guthridge, and Williams. But as we learned with Doherty, the last head coach to miss back-to-back NCAA Tournaments, wasn’t asked back for another season. It’s not in the best interest of Carolina Basketball that they fire a family member, let alone just three seasons on the job. When you look at Hubert Davis, he’s the perfect blend of what the program wants, and needs, having played under Dean Smith, and being mentored by Roy Williams. And that’s why he spent the entire off-season working to get the program back to the top of the ACC, and the top of the college basketball world, as he’s poised to prove that he’s the right man to lead the next era of Carolina Basketball.

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