Brian Otskey is the Big East correspondent for RTC and a regular contributor. You can find him @botskey on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.
We had a few games earlier in the week to whet our appetite but the main course of college basketball is served tonight. One hundred thirty-one games tip off this evening in what is really the true opening night of the season. Of course, the night is highlighted by the Carrier Classic in San Diego. Let’s get to it.
#1 North Carolina vs. Michigan State (at San Diego, CA) – 7:00 PM EST on ESPN (****)
- The preseason #1 Tar Heels feature arguably the best front court in the nation with Tyler Zeller, John Henson and freshman James McAdoo. The length of the UNC front line, especially Henson, will make it incredibly difficult for Michigan State to score the basketball in the paint but the Tar Heels should also use their height as an advantage offensively. Michigan State will likely try to make this a half court game in order to limit Carolina’s transition attack. North Carolina did not shoot the ball particularly well last season so maximizing their chances inside could be advantageous if the Spartans successfully turn this into a slower-paced contest. Everyone knows Roy Williams likes to run (we’ll certainly see that) but UNC has the potential to thrive in the half court game with a good floor general in Kendall Marshall and an uber-talented front line that can score, rebound and block shots. They’re a tough matchup for anyone but especially a Michigan State team with an inexperienced and thin big man rotation.
- For Tom Izzo and Michigan State, Draymond Green may have to do it all. He’s a stat sheet stuffer extraordinaire but we expect Green to have a difficult time getting in the paint against the tall and patient Carolina defense. Green was only a 42.6% shooter from the floor last season, down significantly from his freshman and sophomore campaigns in East Lansing. As a senior, Green has to be the coach on the floor while simultaneously taking control of the game in order for State to have a chance. Valparaiso transfer Brandon Wood bolsters Izzo’s back court and he’ll have to be counted on right away to provide a spark from three-point land. Michigan State is not going to beat North Carolina inside or in transition so you have to figure it’ll be up to Green, Wood and Keith Appling to knock down shots from long range.
- The other aspect to this game, obviously, is the USS Carl Vinson itself. Neither team was a good jump shooting unit last year so the depth perception and sightlines of this unique venue could play a huge role. Even the elements, such as the slightest gust of wind, could be enough to alter a shot. North Carolina will run and look for easy baskets behind Marshall’s exquisite court vision and playmaking ability, a transition attack that may be fueled by Michigan State turnovers. The Spartans turned the ball over at an alarming rate last season, especially in the early months. If that continues, they don’t have a chance tonight. So many things have to go right for Michigan State to pull the upset but there are a lot of intangibles in play from the venue to the weather to the pressure of playing in such a setting and more. North Carolina should win, but regardless, this looks like a terrific way to open up the season.
Belmont @ #6 Duke – 9:00 PM EST on ESPNU (***)