Some quick thoughts from today’s Maui Invitational quarterfinal game between UNC and Mississippi State…
Three Key Takeaways.
- The UNC Guards Are Big, Deep and Talented. This is a completely different type of North Carolina team from the last couple of seasons, and frankly, given a Roy Williams’ system that looks to get into transition at every available opportunity, it may work a little better. With all the size along the Tar Heel front line last year, it sometimes felt like the Heels got bogged down in the half court, but this year’s group doesn’t seem to have that same problem. At least not today, when a Mississippi State defense gave them every opening they wanted — to the tune of 15 threes (the fourth most in school history) and 21 assists — Roy Williams found a reason to be upset with his defense in the postgame (UNC held MSU to 27% shooting), but the fortunes of his team are going to ride on PJ Hairston, Leslie McDonald, Reggie Bullock, and Dexter Strickland (combined for 65 points today).
- Carolina’s Young Size is Raw But Promising. It won’t show up on the stat sheet as very impressive, but the trio of Joel James, Brice Johnson, Desmond Hubert and JP Tokoto is a collection of raw talent whose size, springiness and hustle are going to win Carolina some games this season. The seven-foot James is somewhat reminiscent of a young Brendan Haywood, while the beauty of the others is that they aren’t expected to score in favor of hustling and protecting the rim. Williams’ teams are at their best with featured guard and wing play, so this team’s interior corps, already seeming to already understand its role in the scheme, will serve the Heels well going into the heart of the season.
- Mississippi State Has a Long Way to Get Back to Respectability. Rick Ray seemed rather disappointed after this game, and why wouldn’t he be? The realization that his team is roughly 40 to 50 points worse than a top 10 opponent is humbling to say the least. His group of inexperienced players were clearly shaken by the match-up at the opening tip, finding themselves down 9-0, 29-6, and 40-15 at various parts of the first half. They were never able to figure out how to find a good shot in the UNC defensive creases, and turnovers (21) were a major problem. The one bright spot was the hustle and play of Gavin Ware off the bench — he contributed eight points, nine rebounds and two blocks against a much bigger front line.
Star of the Game. PJ Hairston, North Carolina. Hairston had the shot of the game (not the week, thanks to Rotnei Clarke) when his 60-footer at the buzzer of the first half found net. But his all-around game set the pace for the Tar Heels with 18 points (on 7-11 shooting), four rebounds, and three blocks this afternoon.
Quotable. We asked Roy Williams what he thought about Maryland leaving the ACC for the Big Ten, and this was his response:
- “Stunned, shocked… Didn’t see it coming… Strange what’s going on with college athletics… Hate to see them go, but if they don’t want to be there… [hand motion waving goodbye].”