Commentary

Similar talent, different results

UNC and Texas both get top-tier players, but one wins titles and the other doesn't

Updated: December 21, 2011, 12:58 PM ET
By Jordan Brenner | For ESPN Insider
Rick Barnes & Roy WilliamsIcon SMI, Getty ImagesRick Barnes and Roy Williams can land NBA-caliber recruits, but how does UNC turn them into titles?

Nine seasons ago, Roy Williams and Rick Barnes stood on common ground. Two coaches with ACC roots had morphed into Big 12 rivals at Kansas and Texas, respectively, competing yearly for conference championships and top recruits. So when they both found themselves in the 2003 Final Four, chasing their first national title, they understood each other's position.

Neither took home the trophy that April, and their paths diverged from that point -- and in ways beyond the obvious. Williams, of course, moved on to North Carolina, where he has won two national championships and reached an additional Final Four. Barnes, on the other hand, has yet to guide Texas back to the tourney's final weekend, while his teams have fallen during the first weekend five times in eight trips.

So when UNC and Texas get together Wednesday in Chapel Hill, it will be a meeting between a man who has now mastered his craft and another whose frustration must run deep, right?

As usual, reality isn't that simple.

For instance, take their recruiting prowess. Williams' success in luring the guys he wants to UNC sure seems unparalleled over the last eight years. Yet would you believe that over that time, Carolina has brought in 27 top-100 prospects, according to a consensus of recruiting rankings, while the Longhorns are right on their, uh, heels with 24? What about the fact that Barnes has actually topped Williams head-to-head for more prospects (including Kevin Durant and D.J. Augustin)?

Or how about this: Texas has lost just 11 more games over those eight-plus seasons.

If that data isn't mind-blowing, it's certainly surprising, which leads to a key question: Why has there been such a disparity in NCAA tournament success between the programs? A large portion of that answer can be traced to early departures.

Jordan Brenner | email

ESPN The Magazine contributing writer
Brenner writes for ESPN The Magazine and ESPN Insider. He covers the NBA and college basketball.