ACC-B1G Challenge: North Carolina at #1 Michigan St., 9:00 PM, ESPN
This game is a perfect example of the irresistible force meeting the immovable object.
Since Roy Williams returned to UNC in 2003, the Tar Heels have met Tom Izzo's Michigan State Spartans six times. UNC has won all six meetings. Three of those came in the NCAA Tournament the most infamous being the beatdown the Tar Heels put on Michigan State in the 2009 NCAA Championship. The teams have met twice in the ACC-B1G Challenge, including UNC winning during the 2009-10 season. The other game was on the deck of an aircraft carrier. Six games, six Tar Heel wins.
Conventional wisdom says this is the one where Tom Izzo finally breaks through against Roy Williams and the Tar Heels. It is the first time UNC has played at Breslin Arena and Michigan State is the #1 team in the country. UNC, despite beating Louisville has looked very flawed through six games losing to Belmont at home, on the road at UAB and being mostly unimpressive in the other wins save the first half against Oakland. If there was ever a time for Izzo to finally get a win against UNC, this is his chance.
Of course it should be noted that Rick Pitino entered the game versus North Carolina ten days ago having gone 0-4 against the Tar Heels in his career. He fell to 0-5 in a game that now really looks like one the Cardinals should have won. So there is hope. A fool's hope to be sure. The kind of hope that rest on the unpredictability of sports, the oddity of one coach not being able to beat a certain team(see Roy Williams vs Paul Hewitt) and the off chance someone might do something completely unheard of to pull off the upset.
Yes, it's a little depressing that is where this season is already at with UNC missing two key players and making do with a roster makeup that is far from ideal. In fact, taking a cue from Roy Williams tone after the UAB loss, I am not sure winning the game is even a primary concern. Williams seems more interested in how his team plays from an effort and execution standpoint. Williams often takes more of a "big picture" view of the season during the early weeks of the season. He wants to win games but in some ways that can almost be a bonus as long as the team plays at the level he expects of them. They didn't do that against UAB and everything he has said since then indicates they certainly better not repeat that effort, even if they lose by 30.
In short, he is as aware as anyone of the limitations and by all accounts he is doing everything in his power from motivating his team to trying to make active adjustments to improve a difficult situation. At this stage, it is easy to be resigned to pessimism about this team's chances of winning. After the UAB loss and facing a superior opponent, this game feels very much like one where all you can ask for is they show up and compete, regardless of the score.
MSU 85 UNC 68