-- AUSTIN, Texas -- Falling back into his seat at the postgame dais at the Frank Erwin Center after his team's loss to Texas on Saturday, Roy Williams opened the Q&A with one word and a sigh that summarized the mood of a North Carolina basketball team that's fighting, and failing, to preserve its former legacy.
"OK ... "
You can imagine the solemn tone.
The tone a teenager uses before he tells his parents why he really missed curfew. The tone your mechanic adopts before he hands you the bill and reveals that your car needs a new everything. The tone a prominent college basketball coach employs when he's blessed with elite talent but is still underachieving and losing his grip on one of the richest legacies in the game -- one that heeds to a lofty standard that's not met by a loss to a Texas squad that Texas A&M, Michigan and Washington all defeated.
"You know, the kids, we've got a bunch of them that played last year," Williams said, "but that's so far in the past history, I could care less."
You could say the same about the Tar Heels program.
No, Saturday's loss at Texas did not ruin the season for North Carolina, but it magnified the concerns surrounding a squad that got smacked at Pitt, Kentucky and Louisville last season and lost at Northern Iowa earlier this season.
The loss also extended a truth about the face of college basketball in the early 1980s, 1990s and 2000s: North Carolina basketball, as an institution and blueblood, feels like old news. It's a desktop in a tablet world.
Will North Carolina restore its name this season? Maybe. One run through the ACC and Big Dance would promise as much, although the ongoing NCAA drama might diminish any accomplishment.
But please answer this question: Since the Tar Heels' 2009 national championship and most recent Final Four appearance, what North Carolina-like highs have they earned? From 2005 to 2012, North Carolina won or shared six of eight ACC regular-season championships. Williams' squad has missed the past three, won by Miami (2013) and Virginia (2014, 2015). The Tar Heels began to stumble after they finished 20-17 and lost in the NIT finals in 2009-10, a year after they won the national championship.
Misfortune has also been a culprit in some of North Carolina's recent challenges. Kendall Marshall's wrist injury during the 2012 NCAA tournament stripped Williams' last great roster of its elite point guard and floor leader. There are no guarantees that North Carolina, if future first-round pick Marshall had been available, would have outplayed a strong field that featured future NBA all-star Anthony Davis and Kentucky, a squad that topped the Tar Heels earlier that season via Davis' game-saving block on John Henson. And there are no guarantees that the crafty point guard would have rescued his team during its six-minute scoring drought down the stretch of an Elite Eight loss to Kansas.
But we'll never know, so the what ifs about that season are valid.
Still, that UNC squad featured five other players who'd eventually secure first-round contracts in subsequent NBA drafts (Tyler Zeller, John Henson, P.J. Hairston, Reggie Bullock and Harrison Barnes).
Kentucky sends more players to the NBA nowadays, and John Calipari has reached the Final Four in four of the past five seasons. The Wildcats were represented by four lottery picks in last summer's NBA draft. J.P. Tokoto, a second-round pick, was North Carolina's lone rep. Reggie Bullock, a 2013 draftee, was UNC's most recent first-round selection. P.J. Hairston was sidelined by legal drama in 2013 but secured a first-round slot in 2014 after a stint in the D-League.
Kansas, which defeated North Carolina in 2012's Elite Eight and 2013's round of 32, is favored to win its 12th consecutive Big 12 championship this season. Mike Krzyzewski accepted the one-and-done culture late but he won two national titles after North Carolina earned its most recent ring. His incoming 2016 class features the top two high school players in the country, Jayson Tatum and Harry Giles.
Michigan State's next wave of talent tops North Carolina's, too. Arizona's Sean Miller has owned the West Coast recruiting scene, backed by his five consecutive top-10 recruiting classes from 2011 through 2015. North Carolina's average finish in RecruitingNation's class rankings since 2012: 15th (North Carolina has locked up a top-10 class in two of the past three years).
The kids who once believed they were destined to play for the Tar Heels, now compete in East Lansing, College Park and Tucson. It's a more perplexing landscape for Williams and his colleagues and a partial explanation of North Carolina's current challenges.
North Carolina's former success centered on three ideas: The Tar Heels were perennial national title and ACC contenders, they attracted America's top prep players and they developed NBA talent. That's not the norm today.
Entering the 2015-16 season, however, the Tar Heels looked the part of a squad assembled to remind everyone that North Carolina basketball still lives. Maybe the Tar Heels will do just that and dominate the ACC or leave Houston with a title. Maybe both.
Yet, if that doesn't happen, if they're not as imposing as we all expected the Tar Heels to be in the ACC and beyond this season, what would that mean for North Carolina basketball and its legacy?
It would magnify the idea that the program's best years have already happened, because right now, North Carolina basketball is just living off the past.
Programs Hoping to Reignite their Legacies
UNLV Runnin' Rebels
Most recent Final Four appearance: Same year the real Vivian was still on "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" (1990).
Will they restore UNLV's name in 2015-16? There's a chance. The Runnin' Rebels have a promising young nucleus led by Stephen Zimmerman Jr. Three of UNLV's top four scorers are underclassmen. And four-star recruit Jaylen Fisher will arrive in 2016. Dave Rice guides a squad that will compete for the Mountain West title and an NCAA tournament slot. Zimmerman might turn pro after this season, but Rice can build on the group he has now.
Most recent Final Four appearance: Same year everyone knew at least one Nickelback song (2002).
Will they restore Indiana's name in 2015-16? No. Now, this isn't based on talent. Tom Crean has plenty. But with a defense ranked 106th in adjusted efficiency, per KenPom.com, the Hoosiers will struggle against the NCAA tourney-level squads they'll face this season. And that will elevate the speculation about Crean's future. Just feels like Indiana might encounter more uncertainty before it finds traction.
Most recent Final Four appearance: Same year Nelly told people it was "Hot in Herre" and things got crazy at the family barbecue as a result (2002).
Will they restore Maryland's name in 2015-16? Yes. They're already doing it. Mark Turgeon has created a program that's capable of winning the Big Ten title and reaching the season's final chapter in Houston. And the loss at North Carolina was the most promising proof of that. Maryland struggled in the first half but the Terrapins were a much better squad after halftime in a hectic road environment against a top-10 team. The Terrapins are contenders with a bright future.
Last Final Four appearance: Same year you picked "Hancock" as the centerpiece of a first date and failed to earn a second one (2008).
Will they restore UCLA's name? Maybe. First, give UCLA credit for a run that includes wins over former-No. 1 Kentucky and Gonzaga in Spokane on Saturday. Now, you can't ignore the effect that Marcus Lee (four minutes of action) and Przemek Karnowski (missed game due to back spasms) had on those outcomes. But UCLA is improving. The Bruins started the season as a team that couldn't beat Monmouth, and now they're playing like a group that intends to fight for the Pac-12 title and hear its name called on Selection Sunday.
Last Final Four appearance: Same year Diddy thought a Mohawk was a good idea (2003).
Will they restore Texas' name? Eventually. The win over North Carolina doesn't make Texas a top-25 squad. The win was a high mark that followed losses to Texas A&M, Washington and Michigan. But it's the kind of victory that can turn heads in the recruiting world. Shaka Smart can build a future around the top kids in Dallas and Houston. And Saturday's win will help him attract them to Austin. He has the energy, experience and coaching ability. Now, he just needs more talent to push Texas to the top.
Beat the Buzzer
What's wrong with Wisconsin? After watching the Badgers get swept by Marquette and UW-Milwaukee last week, it's a fair question. On the court, they've gone from shooting 54.8 percent inside the arc (ninth in 2014-15) to shooting 44.4 percent this season (No. 281). But you also have to wonder how much pressure players feel since they know that this might be Bo Ryan's last season.
Angel Rodriguez's improvement huge for Miami: The senior point guard's erratic play cost the Hurricanes in games last season but he's more patient this season, and he's also a better shooter. He's connecting on 44 percent of his shots this season overall (up from 34 percent last year) and 37 percent of his 3-pointers (up from 30 percent last season).
Is Arkansas-Little Rock a top-25 team? ESPN's Jeff Goodman made that case on Twitter on Saturday. And it's not crazy. The Trojans, who defeated DePaul by 22 points in Chicago over the weekend, also own road wins over Tulsa and San Diego State.
Wichita State sends letter to NCAA selection committee: That letter basically said, "Judge us according to whom we've been with Fred VanVleet back in the mix the last three games." They're undefeated in that stretch, with wins over Utah and UNLV. VanVleet recorded 17 assists in those three games.
Watch Diamond Stone's development: The Maryland freshman's 16-point, nine-rebound effort in Tuesday's win over UConn at Madison Square Garden showcased his talent and the trust he has earned thus far. He's crucial for the Terrapins going forward. And now he's playing with a confidence that most freshmen don't find this early.
That's somebody's child, Gary Payton II!!!!! We understand. You're the Glove's son. Your father, former NBA star Gary Payton, embarrassed opposing guards in the NBA. But your father is a man, Gary Payton II. And that kid you dunked on Saturday -- Cheick Diallo -- is still a teenager. ( Missed it? Watch it here.) The NCAA just cleared him to play like last week. And that's how you welcome him to college basketball???!! With a dunk so nasty that the FCC flagged all replays. Ain't right. Just ain't right.