What: Quicken Loans Carrier Classic
Where: Flight Deck, USS Carl Vinson, San Diego, CA
When: Friday, November 11th, 7:00 PM
Records: Season opener for both teams
That officially stands as the coolest "Where" I have ever written in a game preview for this blog.
The Tar Heels open the 2011-12 basketball season tonight in the much anticipated Carrier Classic which will have them facing Michigan St. on the flight deck of a Nimitz class aircraft carrier outdoors. Not to belabor the points but this is freaking awesome, highly unusual and carries a little anxiety with it. I don't know what the history of college basketball games being played outside. I imagine it is a short one so the fact this game will be contested outside already adds an element you do not normally see in basketball games. In addition it is being played on the flight deck with bleachers surrounding it, the tower in the background with wind and sun during the first half. I am not sure how a team prepares to play in these types of conditions but the good news is both teams are facing the same dilemma.
Because of the way this game is unfolding, including the travel from the east coast to the west coast, I would not put much stock in how either team performs. The focus here is to simply win the game, hope no one gets injured, hop the plane back to North Carolina then deal with a good UNC Asheville team in the midst of jet lag. UNC's first two games coming a day apart on opposite coasts with one being contested in abnormal conditions comes off a little like an exhibition schedule. Except it isn't and given that UNC teams under Roy Williams start the season slowly some concern how these two games play out is warranted. As I said, UNC's goal is to start the season 2-0, get the one week break before playing the home opener on November 20th.
As for the actual opponent, Michigan St starts the season outside the Top 25 and with a fair amount of development on tap after the exodus of Kalin Lucas and Durrell Summers. Delvon Roe opted to end his college career due to injury taking another experience player out of the mix. The Spartans will lean heavily on Draymond Green who has seen his share of UNC over the course of his four year career. Green was in Detroit for both epic beatdowns administered to MSU and also made the trip to Chapel Hill in 2010 to play the Heels. The 2009 games are worthless to look at since UNC's team is completely different now. In the December, 2009 game in Chapel Hill Green had 13 points, seven rebounds in 28 minutes. It will be interesting to see who matches up with Green. It could be Harrison Barnes or if Green is playing the four John Henson may draw the assignment. On the perimeter Keith Appling will be the focal point of the perimeter scoring. Last season Appling averaged 6.4 ppg in 22 minutes per out with a solid 41% from beyond the arc. Appling played behind Kalin Lucas so this will be his first foray into being the lead guard in the offense. Depending on the matchups, Appling might draw Dexter Strickland unless Roy decided to go PG on PG at which point it will be Kendall Marshall. Also of note for the Spartans is G Brandon Wood who transferred from Valparaiso where he averaged 17 ppg in 2010. MSU has some size on the interior with 6-10 Adreian Payne and 6-9, 270 lbs Derrick Nix. Payne and Nix played limited minutes a year ago.
Since no one can say for sure how the perimeter shooting will go with the sight lines, depth perception and win, UNC has a huge advantage as a team that looks to the interior first and also gets baskets in transition. As with any game this season, UNC should keep the three point attempts low and focus on pounding the ball into three NBA first rounders on the frontline. UNC also needs a top notch defensive game by taking Green and Appling out and forcing the Spartans lesser known components to make shots. Overall the Heels have a talent edge and Roy owns Tom Izzo having now won five straight against the Spartans, all but one of them by double digits. The same result should hold here although I expect it to be a little sloppy and by no means should anyone underestimate an Izzo coached team.
UNC 78 MSU 67