UNC vs. Michigan State: The preview

UNC forward James Michael McAdoo is searching for his niche. Can he find it against Michigan State?
UNC forward James Michael McAdoo is searching for his niche. Can he find it against Michigan State? Robert Willett -- rwillett@newsobserver.com

And welcome to Brighton, Mich., folks, where not too long from now I’ll begin the 45-minute drive over to East Lansing, site of North Carolina’s game tonight against No. 1 Michigan State.

The story I wrote in advance of the game today focuses on James Michael McAdoo, who said earlier this week that he was still trying to find his “niche” on this particular Tar Heels teams. That statement might be troubling to some, given that McAdoo is hardly a newcomer, but it is UNC’s reality.

The Tar Heels are shorthanded – no update on the P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald situation, coach Roy Williams said on Tuesday – and so McAdoo and some others are being asked to do things they might have not have been asked to do if Williams had his full complement of players.

Now, though, would be a great time for McAdoo to start finding his niche. For the Tar Heels to reach their potential, they need more out of him.

Some things to know about the game this evening:

UNC at No. 1 Michigan State

When: 9 p.m.

Where: Breslin Center, East Lansing, Mich.

TV/Radio: ESPN/101.5-WRAL

Projected starting lineups

UNC (4-2)

G Nate Britt 3.5 ppg, 2.2 apg

G Marcus Paige 20.8 ppg, 3.8 apg

F J.P. Tokoto 9.5 ppg, 5 rpg

F James Michael McAdoo 13.8 ppg, 6 rpg

F Joel James 4 ppg, 4.7 rpg

Michigan State (7-0)

G Keith Appling 16.9 ppg, 5.6 apg

G Gary Harris 17.7 ppg, 4.3 rpg

F Branden Dawson 10.3 ppg, 9.7 rpg

F Matt Costello 3 ppg, 3.4 rpg

F Adreian Payne 15.9 ppg, 7.7 rpg

Player to watch

James Michael McAdoo, forward, North Carolina

The Tar Heels beat then-No. 3 Louisville without a sterling effort from McAdoo, the junior forward, but it’s unlikely that UNC keeps it close at Michigan State without a significant contribution from him. McAdoo hasn’t scored in double figures in his past three games, and his rebounding has diminished, too. McAdoo met with coach Roy Williams twice earlier this week and, though Williams has kept the details of those conversations private, he has said that he wants do a better job of putting McAdoo in a position to succeed.

Observations: Michigan State hasn’t necessarily been known as a fast-paced team under coach Tom Izzo, but the Spartans are this season. They’re averaging 85.9 points per game, and outscored Kentucky 21-2 in fast break points last month. … UNC’s shaky 3-point shooting defense will be tested against Michigan State, which is making 38.8 percent of its 3-point attempts. … This is the third consecutive season that UNC has faced a No. 1-ranked team on the road. UNC lost 72-72 at Kentucky in 2011, and then 83-59 at Indiana last season. … Roy Williams is 3-3 against No. 1 teams during his head coaching tenure at UNC, but his most recent victory against a top-ranked team came in 2006 against Duke. … UNC is 7-7 all-time in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, with victories against Michigan State in 2008 and 2009.


1. Don’t get lost in the moment and in the atmosphere.

Yes, the Tar Heels have gone on the road twice now in the past week and a half – first to Connecticut for the Naismith Hall of Fame Tip-Off at the Mohegan Sun, and then again on Sunday at UAB. This, though, will be far different. For the first time this season, UNC will be playing in a truly hostile road environment – no offense, UAB – and the Tar Heels can’t afford to get lost amid the noise. Remember what happened at Indiana last year? UNC has shown some resiliency this season, and has fought back from significant deficits, but that will be tested tonight.

2. Establish some semblance of an inside game.

Easier said than done against Michigan State’s front line – Payne is among the best frontcourt players UNC will face this season – but it’ll be a long night for the Tar Heels if they can’t score on the inside, as was the case for most of the defeat at UAB. Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks have played very well at times this season, but they’ve both been inconsistent, too. If UNC can effectively score inside, it opens up the entire offense.

3. Effectively guard the 3.

To Williams’ chagrin, UNC hasn’t exactly been known as a great perimeter defensive team during his tenure. That doesn’t bode well for tonight against Michigan State, which is shooting 38.8 percent from behind the 3-point line. Already, the Spartans have made at least 10 3-pointers in three games. They did that just once last season. This is one of coach Tom Izzo’s most potent offensive teams, and it can score in a variety of ways – on the break, in the post in the halfcourt offense and on the outside. The Spartans are difficult to guard, but UNC can’t afford to make it easier on them by leaving guys open on the perimeter.


College Basketball

Michigan State is the better shooting team, and the one that does the better job of avoiding turnovers. UNC has been slightly better at generating second-chance opportunities and significantly better at getting to the free throw line. But can the Tar Heels make their free throws when they get there?

See you at the Breslin Center.