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Heel Tough Blog: Was Hubert Davis Right All Along?

Updated: Nov 11, 2023

Tar Heel Times

There have been many criticisms of Hubert Davis during his short stint as Carolina’s head basketball coach, but none have been louder than his inability to develop a legitimate bench. When Carolina made the national championship game during the 2021-22 season, he did so playing at the most, seven players during the NCAA Tournament. It was more of the same last season, but the results were much different, as the Tar Heels failed to make the NCAA Tournament. It’s hard to win at any level, but especially in a Big Six conference, if you don’t have depth. A 20-game conference schedule can be exhausting, and Hubert Davis has yet to be able to trust his bench, to keep his starters fresh.

Davis has defended his lack of a rotation, by saying he doesn’t create the rotation, but that the players determine that by how they perform in practice, and of course in the games. That is a great theory, but given he played for a head coach who had a rotation set going into every game, and was mentored by another that would experiment until he found what lineups work, and ones that didn’t. And it wasn’t for a lack of talent, because Davis had multiple four-star players sitting on the bench, that failed to make a consistent impact on the team. And in today’s college basketball, when kids don’t play the type of minutes that they think should play, or their parents think they should play, they’ll transfer and go somewhere else and play. That is exactly what happened as Puff Johnson and D’Marco Dunn transferred to Penn State, Tyler Nickel went to Virginia Tech, and Dontrez Styles wound up in Georgetown.

Entering the season, Davis made it known again that he doesn’t make the rotation, and what we saw on Monday night, might mean that the aforementioned guys that transferred out of the program, just weren’t good enough to play in his eyes. Davis played nine different players, double-digit minutes in the season-opening win over Radford on Monday, and the first two players off the bench happened to be freshmen (Cadeau and High). With that in mind, let’s see how the players that transferred out of the Carolina program, fared in their respective season openers:

D’Marco Dunn:

Dunn transferred out of UNC on the final day of the transfer window, and ultimately landed at Penn State, along with Puff Johnson. The Nittany Lions are coming off a trip to the NCAA Tournament and hired Mike Rhoades after Micah Shrewsberry left for Notre Dame. Penn State won their season opener against Delaware State, 79-45, but if you look at the box score, Dunn didn’t even start, as he played 15 minutes off the bench, scoring three points.

Puff Johnson:

Just like during his time with the Tar Heels, Puff was battling a preseason injury that forced him to miss their exhibition against Robert Morris, and it also forced him to miss the season opener. Johnson was a player that Penn State took to Big 10 Media Day, so there’s a chance he will start once he’s finally healthy

Tyler Nickel:

Nickel transferred to ACC foe Virginia Tech, returning to his home state of Virginia, after just one season in Chapel Hill. Just like Dunn, Nickel didn’t start for the Hokies in their 100-55 win over Coppin State to open up the 2023-24 season. But unlike Dunn, Nickel made his presence felt off the bench, scoring 12 points, on 4-9 shooting, including 2-6 from behind the three-point line. Now with Sean Pedeulla and Hunter Cattoor back in Blacksburg, it’s going to be hard for Nickel to start, so just like had he stayed at UNC, he’s going to come off the bench for at least one more season.

Dontrez Styles:

The decision of Styles to transfer was a hard pill to swallow for UNC fans after he played a pivotal role in the run to the national championship game off the bench, combined with him being an in-state product, it was hard seeing him go. His performance for the Georgetown Hoyas didn't make it any better, as Styles recorded a double-double (15 points, 10 rebounds), in the 94-57 win over Le Moyne. Of all the major transfers, Styles was the only player to start at his new school, making an impression on his new coach, Ed Cooley.

It’s going to be interesting to see how Carolina’s rotation ultimately comes together, but if the season-opening game is any indication, Davis is going to have no choice but to play his reserves, more than he has in his first two seasons. Also, when you look at all the transfers that left the program, and only Styles was able to start at his new school, almost validates why they didn’t play more significant roles while at UNC.

The Tar Heels return to action this Sunday, when they host Lehigh out of the Patriot League at 2 PM, on the ACC Network.

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1 Comment

Alan Caviness
Alan Caviness
Nov 10, 2023

Nickel also got 7 rebounds in 20 minutes, second highest for the team.

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