North Carolina(3-0) vs Mississippi St(1-1)
UNC makes its third trip to Maui during the Roy Williams era having won the event in the last two tries. Both of those teams went on to win an NCAA title which is not quite the expectation for this team but this will be a good test nonetheless. The Heels come into the game with three double digit wins under their belt and the trip to Maui very much being treated in an "all business" sort of way. Williams has stated that the focus would be on basketball and the players have echoed that sentiment for the most part.
The Tar Heels are coming off a nice win against Long Beach State which was played in a hostile gym versus a fired up team. UNC responded nicely to a first half challenge by the 49ers on the strength of James Michael McAdoo's second half explosion and a barrage of three pointers. It is too early to say if McAdoo plus threes will be the formula for winning this season but it worked fairly well Friday night.
Up first in Maui is Mississippi State in a rematch from the 2010 NIT when the Heels went to Starkville and won in dramatic fashion. Obviously neither team is the same with both dealing with various personnel upheavals. Mississippi State only had five players return from last season and lost five of its top six players in minutes played including the top four scorers and rebounders. That leaves the Bulldogs, who also have a new coach, in much the same position as UNC in terms of replacing lost production. The key difference is, UNC had the depth to make replacing production much easier. MSU sits at 1-1 having lost to Troy to open the season but won 78-58 over Florida Atlantic.
Ultimately this is a team that should not give UNC too much trouble. The Tar Heels should enjoy a rebounding advantage and has more than enough weapons. Also, the Heels have been very strong on the defensive end through three games. Like UNC's first three opponents, MSU does not have the size to match the Tar Heels and is leaning on a junior college transfer point guard in Trivante Bloodman. The question for UNC at this stage and versus a team like this is about its own execution. If UNC does what it is capable of doing, then the game should go well. If not, MSU might find a way to hang around.
UNC 85 MSU 61