The North Carolina Tar Heels are in Hawaii for the Maui Invitational Tournament after starting the season 3-0 with wins over Garner Webb, Florida Atlantic and Long Beach State and face Mississippi State tonight at 6pm. To start the season the Tar Heels have been up and down working through shooting problems at the foul line and on the perimeter, especially from beyond the arc.
Their most recent contest against Long Beach, UNC had their best game of the season in which they shot the ball well connecting on ten three pointers and shooting a respectable percentage from the charity stripe. Roy Williams tightened the rotation a bit against the 49ers giving nine players double figure minutes and limiting the time of Desmond Hubert and JP Tokoto as well as not inserting Luke Davis or Jackson Simmons until the very end of the game with the win in hand.
With three games in the next three days Roy has indicated that will likely change, this is what he told goheels.com on the subject:
“The younger players are going to play more minutes,” he said. “You can’t just play the starting five for 35 minutes. We’re going to play 10, 11 or 12 guys in the first half of every game.”
Look for Roy to play Davis and Dexter Strickland a little more at the point to give freshman Marcus Paige a breather more than he did against the 49ers. I also expect to see more of Tokoto, Leslie McDonald and PJ Hairston in order to give starters Strickland and Reggie Bullock some rest on the perimeter.
The big men will have to play smart, especially Joel James who will have to avoid foul trouble and pick his spots defensively. UNC is at their best when James or fellow freshman Brice Johnson are paired with James Michael McAdoo inside and cannot afford for any of them to get into foul trouble forcing more minutes to Hubert and Simmons.
In Mississippi State the Heels will face a team that likes to play a similar up tempo style to what they run. It will be important to control the boards and focus on getting back on defense quickly. They also have depth issues with just six scholarship players in Maui due to some injuries and suspensions.
McAdoo has led the Tar Heels in scoring in all three games this season averaging an impressive 21 points per game with the next highest scorer, Bullock averaging just ten per contest. It will be key for the Heels to play their style basketball and feed the ball into McAdoo early and often while also getting scoring from other players.
UNC did a nice job on a couple of runs against the 49ers hitting outside shots but they did not necessarily play their style basketball of pushing the ball and getting quality shots early in the shot clock and at times fell in love with the three point shot too much. They need others to create offense off the dribble, especially Marcus Paige and PJ Hairston who both had good games last time out.
This is a game that UNC should win easily against a team plagued by injuries that also has scholarship players suspended. Expect Mississippi State to go on some runs with their up tempo style play and challenge Carolina a bit throughout the game. At the end of the day, UNC is much deeper and much more talented and should prevail easily.
The eight team field also includes No. 25 Texas, Marquette, USC, Illinois, Butler and host Chaminade. This is not as good of a field in Maui as we are used to seeing but this will be no cake walk for the Tar Heels. Texas, Marquette and Illinois have very good teams and USC is one of the most improved teams in the nation with a revamped roster.
The Tar Heels will play either Butler or Marquette on Tuesday.