John Henson goes up for a layup in the first half against Michigan State during the Carrier Classic aboard the flight deck of the USS Carl Vinson on November 11, 2011.
Let's be honest. The Carrier Classic was established to be a spectacle first, and a basketball game second. Played on an aircraft carrier with the President and First Lady in attendance, the game was paused at the first timeout for the lowering of the colors and the halftime entertainment was a shooting contest that involved James Worthy, Tyler Hansbrough, and Brooklyn Decker. Throw in the fact that this was first the game of the season, and only so much you can really learn about the teams on the floor.
Case in point: the poor three-point shooting. Carolina was 4 of 13 from behind the arc, while Michigan State was and abysmal 2 of 22. Is the UNC perimeter defense really that strong, or is playing on an aircraft carrier at night going to throw off your shot? Was the Heels slow start – they were down 19-14 before ending the half on a 22-6 run – just nerves or a lack of intensity that could be a problem? And does a team like this give up 42 rebounds, 19 of them on their own end of the court?
So let's not try to divine the future of this team from this game alone, and instead just look at what they did well. Carolina overcome that early deficit, ratcheting up the pressure with some Dexter Strickland steals and shooting their way back into things. John Henson was a beast against a pretty strong frontcourt, getting a career-high nine blocks to go along with 12 points and 7 rebounds. Kendall Marshall had somewhat of an off night, with five turnovers and just as many assists, and if he improved his shooting over the summer it didn't show up in the performance on the ship. The team actually appeared to have more spark in the first half when Strickland was running the point. Harrison Barnes lead all scorers with 17.
Outside of James McAdoo, we didn't get a good look at the freshmen. McAdoo picked up fouls two through four early in the second half, and so wasn't much of a factor late. P.J. Hairston was limited to eight minutes of playing time; he took one shot, a very impressive three. The other two freshmen appeared only in the final minute, once the game was no longer in doubt.
I'm not going to try to draw conclusions about this team tonight. I doubt we'll see them give up 18 rebounds to a single player again, like they allowed Draymond Green. I doubt they'll play that many teams as heavily slanted towards play in the paint. And I doubt the president will show up for any other games – although you never know. UNC got a good win here, on the national stage in a game designed in part to honor our veterans. They even got to take home a pretty ugly trophy in the process. That's enough for tonight; there's a long season left to go.