North Carolina and Long Beach State: Respect the SchedulingPosted by AMurawa on November 17th, 2012
Drew Murawa is an RTC correspondent and a Pac-12 microsite writer. He filed this report from tonight’s North Carolina-Long Beach State game.
Right out of the box, we need to thank these two coaches for getting this type of game scheduled. It wasn’t necessarily a marquee game that every college basketball junkie around the country had been looking forward to, but this was a game that saw one of the sports’ bluebloods go on the road and play at a mid-major school. This is not something that happens every day. It’s really not even something that happens every decade, excepting North Carolina. Can you imagine Jim Boeheim scheduling this game for Syracuse? Coach K and Duke? Those schools barely even leave their own friendly confines in November and December, and when they do it is for made-for-television neutral site games. No, this was a true road game for the Tar Heels. And even though there were a lot of Carolina Blue shirts scattered throughout the arena, there was little doubt that most of the largest crowd in the history of the Walter Pyramid on the campus of Long Beach State was there in the hopes of watching North Carolina lose.
So how did this game get scheduled? Well, primarily it was scheduled because the Tar Heels are on their way across the Pacific for a trip to the Maui Invitational and have made a habit of stopping off for a road game on the way. In 2008 they played at LBSU’s Big West rival UC Santa Barbara, and in 2004 they traveled to Santa Clara on the way to Maui – and lost with a freshman point guard, Quentin Thomas, at the helm. So, unlike some of the other bluebloods, UNC is not afraid to take the occasional road trip. Last year they helped UNC Asheville open their new arena; two years ago they traveled to Evansville. Head coach Roy Williams thinks it is good for his team and plenty of fun as well. “Anytime you go get a win on the road, it’s a good thing,” he said. “The crowd was great, it was a wonderful college basketball atmosphere. I don’t mind the kids yelling at me and yelling for their team.” Sophomore forward James Michael McAdoo agreed. “I think it was just a perfect fit for us right now, coming out here and playing in this atmosphere is just what we need, especially going into Maui and being a young team.” In the end, regardless of who you root for or what you think of the Tar Heels, you’ve got to respect the fact that these guys are more than willing to go on the road and give smaller fan bases a thrill on occasion.
The other side of the equation is the host 49ers who, under head coach Dan Monson, have shown no fear in their scheduling. Last year they played the second-best non-conference schedule in the nation (according to KenPom.com), two years ago it was fourth nationally, and in 2009-10, it was again second. This year the numbers are going to be quite similar; having already played USC and now UNC, they’ve still got teams like Arizona, Syracuse, Ohio State and UCLA – top 15 teams all – remaining on the schedule. So the fact that a program like this is awarded with a visit from the Tar Heels is entirely fitting. And LBSU made the most of it. They brought in temporary seating for 2,600 additional fans (leading to record attendance of 6,912 for the Pyramid) and they packed it from floor to rafters. Long story short: It’s quite easy to appreciate both of these programs’ scheduling philosophies.
As for the game, Long Beach State showed what it often shows against opponents of this caliber: you know, they’re good enough to hang with them for 25 or 30 minutes or so until their opponent’s superior talent wins out and the big boys wind up with a double-digit victory. Mike Caffey is a worthy replacement for departed point guard Casper Ware; Dan Jennings, formerly of West Virginia, is going to be a very good Big West big man for the next two years; and there are some other good parts here, with major conference transfers Keala King (Arizona State) and Tony Freeland (DePaul) ready to chip in when they’re eligible come December. They may not be the prohibitive favorite in their conference that they were last year, but they’re sure to have a major say on that race. Should Arizona or Syracuse or Ohio State or UCLA lose sleep over these guys? Certainly not tonight, but this is not a team to overlook.
As for the Tar Heels, there are a couple of exceedingly reliable pieces here. James Michael McAdoo is all that. There were questions prior to the year about whether he would live up to his enormous potential, but he is well on the way to doing just that. Certainly, he’ll have to prove it against more significant competition, beginning next week in Maui, but I have zero doubts that he’ll do it. Likewise, Reggie Bullock is rock solid at the wing, a versatile scorer, an excellent defender and a good partner for freshman Marcus Paige in the backcourt. Speaking of Paige, he was at times terrific tonight, getting in the paint with ease, knocking down open three-pointers and locking onto Caffey defensively for stretches. However, he is definitely a work in progress. “He’s not where I’d like him to be yet,” said Williams, “but for a freshman playing point guard there are so many things he’s got to do.” He coughed it up five times and at times seemed to forget about the immense advantage the Tar Heels were enjoying in the paint.
Which brings me to the other frontcourt players for Williams: Desmond Hubert, Brice Johnson, Joel James and J.P. Tokoto. Tonight it was Brice Johnson providing the most help, going for 10 points and eight boards in just 13 minutes. But the others have a role they can play. Hubert hasn’t scored in 38 minutes of action this year, but is a bouncy rebounder and shotblocker and the current starter; James has had the most success previously and is the most physically ready of the foursome, and he grabbed nine boards tonight but is limited offensively. And then Tokoto, more of a wing than the interior players the others are, is just an athletic freak with jump out of the gym abilities that he displays almost effortlessly. They’ll each have their moments this year, and there’s nothing that says Williams needs one of them to step up, but this is a group with some special moments ahead of it. We’ll see next week and on the 27th of this month (at Indiana) just how far along they are this early, but this team should be a load by March, provided Paige continues to progress.