Coming off a loss to UAB that has the UNC web boards still in meltdown mode, North Carolina (4-2) is now facing its toughest task so far this season, an away game at the number one team in the nation, Michigan State (7-0), in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. The game will be televised nationally on ESPN, with tip off time being 9:00 p.m. EST.
This is a big time challenge for head coach Roy Williams’ team, but just like the other Top 5 team UNC faced this season, MSU has not beaten UNC since Williams has come back to Chapel Hill. The Tar Heels program is 6-0 against the Spartans, having won against them at the highest level, like a pair of Final Fours, and the wildest venue, like an aircraft carrier. However, each time that Carolina has played Michigan State they were a Top 10 team, this time they come into East Lansing, Michigan unranked and with a lot of questions about their line up.
Having said all of this MSU’s head man, Tom Izzo, is not taking this game lightly…
“Look at their pedigree, their reputation and the number of great players they have,” Izzo said. “They’ll be one of the more well-coached teams that come in here.”
As well as one of the top Spartans…
“That’s North Carolina,” Michigan State sophomore guard Gary Harris said. “You saw what happened last time they lost to an unranked team, they came out and beat Louisville.”
In the outcome of this game might be pretty simple, which Carolina team will show up for the game? Will it be the one that defeated a Louisville squad which many thought could be a Final Four contender this season, or will we see what the squad that lost to Belmont first and then again UAB.
While no one can be sure which squad is going to show up tonight, we do know one this, the two shooting guards dealing with the NCAA, junior P.J. Hairston and senior Leslie McDonald, will not be playing tonight versus the top team in the nation. As a matter of fact neither of the student-athletes will be with the squad on this hard road match up. From the official site of UNC Athletics coach Williams during his press conference had this to say on the situation…
“If I haven’t had a clue since June, there’s no way I’m going to have a clue now,” Williams said. “Nothing’s changed.”
Another thing that has been missing, be it in the wins or losses, has been the wing play for the Tar Heels. Junior forward James McAdoo, who has been attacked by many after the last couple of games, has had to play at the three slot due to the missing players. Not the best thing for someone who is not gripping his role as a leader, but right now “it is what it is” for this squad. However there is no way that Carolina can win this one without a good performance by the junior forward.
Between McAdoo and the other bigs for UNC they need to work on the rebounding in this one, as they were out-hustled on the boards against UAB in a way that should never happen with the size mismatch they had. Against the top team in the nation another performance like that would truly be devastating for North Carolina. The one bright spot so far this year might be sophomore power forward Brice Johnson, how well he plays in this one is going to show if the Heels have a chance or not against the Spartans.
While McAdoo is the one that the fan base wants to see improve in the paint, the one that they would like to step up some in the back court is freshman point guard Nate Britt, who has been learning on the job, since sophomore shooting guard Marcus Paige had to slide to the off guard due to the missing players, while on the perimeter it has to be small forward P.J. Tokoto, who has been a roller coaster to say the least. There is no doubt in my mind that while McAdoo has to have a good game in this one, while the other two can not be a liability in order for Carolina to be able to be in a position to win.
In the end this road game is going to be a tough one to overcome, even if North Carolina plays as well as it did against Louisville. The Vegas insiders have UNC as a nine point underdog. I think that the Heels can keep it closer if two things happen… keep the boards theirs and mark the three point shot. If they can not look for Michigan State to make this a double digit win.