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Preview: Michigan State Spartans vs. North Carolina Tarheels

9:00 P.M. (ET), TUESDAY

TV: ESPN (Dickie V, sadly)

Tarheel bullets:

  • You may recall that North Carolina had a pretty good squad last season: 34-4 overall, 13-3 in the ACC, National Champions.
  • Oh, and they posted two wins against the Spartans of Michigan State University by a combined margin of 52 points.
  • Four of five starters departed for the NBA.
  • 6-1 thus far in the new season.  Beat Ohio State by 4 points; lost to Syracuse by 16 (both games in New York).
  • Plenty of talent/depth remains.  10 players averaging at least 9 minutes per game.

Starter-plus-sixth-man (Zeller) statistical capsule (more stats here):

Pos Player Height Year Min/G Pts/G 2pt% 3pt% FT% Reb/G Ast/G
G Larry Drew II 6'2" SO 25.3 7.7 .526 .471 .625 2.3 6.7
G/F Marcus Ginyard 6'5" RS SR 30.3 11.4 .595 .474 .692 3.7 4.1
F/G Will Graves 6'6" RS JR 18.7 7.3 .440 .269 .800 3.7 0.7
F Deon Thompson 6'9" SR 26.9 17.7 .561 -- .800 8.9 1.4
F Ed Davis 6'10" SO 24.9 12.7 .680 -- .618 9.9 1.4
F Tyler Zeller 7'0" SO 16.0 10.1 .614 -- .773 3.9 0.4

TMadison has already provided us with a thorough rundown of the early four-factors profile for the new-edition Tarheels.  I won't repeat everything he's already done.

The offensive strength of the team rests with the final three numbers in the "2pt%" column of the table above.  Thompson, Davis, and Zeller are all scoring very efficiently near the basket.  That's going to pose a major problem for MSU.  In both our games against quality opponents to date (Gonzaga/Florida), the opponent's big men scored very efficiently--much more so than the opposing guards.  Draymond Green and Delvon Roe, for all their strengths, don't have the height to match-up with taller players who can turn and score.

The trick will be to deny the Tarheel big men good position, limit them to one shot when they do get the ball in the post, and hope the UNC guards don't get hot.  In Carolina's loss to Syacuse, Graves and Drew combined to make just 2 of 14 FG attempts against the Syracuse zone.  (It also helped that the Orangemen posted an eFG% of 61.0%.)  Might we finally see that zone defense Tom Izzo keeps claiming he's got the team practicing--at least to throw a different look at the Tarheels for a few possessions?  More broadly, it'll be interesting to see whether Izzo has his guards hedge off perimeter shooters more than usual to try to deny clean entry passes into the post or pressure the UNC guards to try to take advantage of the turnover issues the Tarheels have displayed to date.

Generally, it's going to be on Kalin Lucas, Durrell Summers, and Chris Allen to take advantage of their experience and scoring abilities against the relatlively-less imposing UNC guards.  Marcus Ginyard--the man who forced Evan Turner to turn the ball over 10 times--will have something to say about that, though.

UNC is a "long" team, as the NBA draft experts would say.  Five of their top six players are 6'5" or taller.  The team is averaing 5.9 blocked shots per game, led by Ed Davis' 2.6 blocks/game.  Thankfully, MSU has shown a propensity for avoiding getting its shots blocked this season, ranking 7th in the nation in offensive block%.  They'll need to create good looks near the basket, but probably not right at the rim, and knock down whatever open 3-point looks they get agains the UNC guards (opposing 3pt% = 37.3%).

This game feels more must-winnish than nonconference games (even those against top-ten opponents) typically do.  Some of that is the revenge factor for last year's two blowout losses--the second on the game's biggest stage.  But it's also a function of the ugly loss to Florida.  Win this game and that loss becomes a narrow loss to a young, fairly-talented team that will likely be an NCAA Tournament team in three months.  Lose this game and we fall clearly outside the top 10, having struggled or lost against all three quality opponents to date, and a #1 or #2 seed for the NCAA Tournament becomes a pretty steep uphill climb.

If this game is to be won, I expect it'll be done so in a high-scoring affair, with both teams taking advantage of the other's defensive weaknesses.  Given that MSU's lineup is now pretty close to 100%--with Raymar Morgan (who, as always, is the X-factor offensively) coming off three straight appearnaces of 19+ minutes--it's now or not-until-the-22nd-vs.-Texas to show what this team can do when all the parts are clicking on offense.  I don't think the Lucas-plus-Green-plus-one-or-two-other-guys-playing-efficiently offensive attack works in this one. [/excessively-hyphenated sentences]

P.S.  Talor Battle and Co. win on the road to give the Big Ten a 1-0 lead.  Reverse-jinx Sagarin-odds post working perfectly.  [Laughs maniacally.]