UNC out to shock hoops world at Michigan State Wednesday
Already this season, North Carolina has followed a shocking loss with an equally shocking win.
Now the Tar Heels (4-2) hope to do it again when they play at No. 1 Michigan State tonight (9 p.m., ESPN) in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, just three days after suffering an upset defeat at Alabama-Birmingham.
Since arriving at UNC, coach Roy Williams is 6-0 against Michigan State, including wins in the 2005 Final Four, the 2009 NCAA title game and the 2011 season opener, which took place on an aircraft carrier in front of President Barack Obama.
But this is the first time UNC will travel to East Lansing since 2000, when the Spartans last beat the Tar Heels.
“Coach always talks about how he likes to go into people’s place and take their brownies,” sophomore Brice Johnson said. “That’s what we want to do.”
To do that, UNC will need to show a lot more energy than it had in its 63-59 loss to UAB on Sunday, when it was outrebounded by 15 and went just 4 of 11 from the line (the Blazers were 22 of 28).
Williams said it was only the third time in 26 years that he said negative things to his team in the locker room after a loss.
“He was most upset about (us not) competing,” Johnson said. “You have to compete if you want to do anything good in life, you have to compete. We didn’t compete on the backboards, we didn’t have enough energy.”
There won’t be any immediate relief from guards P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald, who will not be traveling to Michigan State. The team’s leading scorer last season and its lone scholarship senior, respectively, Hairston and McDonald haven’t played this season because of NCAA eligibility issues.
Williams said that the process is still ongoing, and he didn’t know when a decision on their status was coming.
“If I haven’t had a clue since June, there’s no way I’m going to have a clue now,” Williams said. “Nothing’s changed.”
The Tar Heels missed their two expected starting wing players in a loss to Belmont on Nov. 17, their first non-conference home loss since 2005. But UNC bounced back with a 93-84 win over defending champion and No. 3-ranked Louisville on Nov. 24.
Then came the loss to UAB, which sent the Tar Heels — ranked 12th in the preseason — tumbling out of the AP poll.
Next up is the Spartans (7-0), who are the No. 1 team for the third straight week and for only the seventh week in their history, following two weeks in 1978-79 and two weeks in 2001.
Michigan State is led by Big Ten preseason player of the year Gary Harris, a sophomore guard who is averaging 17.7 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.8 assists. Senior Adreian Payne decided to come back to school and is averaging 15.9 points and 7.7 rebounds, while senior Keith Appling is averaging a career-best 5.6 assists per game and owns a 3.3 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Meanwhile, forward James Michael McAdoo is the only upperclassmen in the regular rotation for UNC.
“There’s no question they have more experienced talent, but you still get to play the game,” said Williams, who is 3-3 against top-ranked teams since taking over at UNC.
While Williams was disgusted by the effort at UAB, he was just as pleased after the win against Louisville, “so I’m not ready to jump off the boat.”
Sophomore Marcus Paige had a career-high 32 points against the Cardinal, while freshman center Kennedy Meeks was three assists shy of a triple-double. UNC will likely need more stellar performances in order to pull off another upset today.
“Our margin is really small,” Williams said. “In ’09 we could play really poorly and still win a lot of games. We could play without Ty Lawson, we could play without Tyler Hansbrough, and play against pretty good teams and still win. We don’t have that margin.”
UNC to Atlantis in ’14
UNC will join a loaded field in the 2014 Battle 4 Atlantis, the team announced Tuesday. The Tar Heels will be joined by UCLA, Georgetown, Florida, Butler, Wisconsin, Oklahoma and UAB.
The tournament at the Atlantis resort’s Imperial Arena on Paradise Island, Nassau, Bahamas, will be held Nov. 26-28 — which is Wednesday through Friday of Thanksgiving week — and will be televised by ESPN and AXS TV.
Williams also confirmed on his radio show Monday night that the Tar Heels will play early-season tournaments in Kansas City in 2015 and in Maui in 2016.