There is plenty to take out of North Carolina’s 67-55 win over Michigan State on Friday night.
But the details of the game come secondary to the experience of the event. And I was a good 3,000 miles away from the USS Carl Vinson, watching the game couchside in my drafty apartment instead of courtside in the Coronado, California.
I mean, we got President Obama to come to a mid-November basketball game that included an unranked team! Granted, it took playing the game outdoors on an aircraft carrier to commemorate Veteran’s Day, but the setting just made the game that much more incredible. There was legitimate concern about the game being rained out. Harrison Barnes voiced concern over the sun being in his eyes while he played. The court became slippery when the sun went down and the temperature dropped because of the condensation that formed.
And of course, there was the wind. Because, as Sidney Dean so memorably told us, out there on a boat, the wind can push the ball to the left or the right 6-8 inches.
Everything about the game and the setting was so perfect and so cool and tastefully done. The focus, of course, eventually ended up on the game, but the fact that ESPN was willing to broadcast 40 minutes worth of pregame ceremonies — which included a speech from Obama and a delay in the first half for the Retiring of the Evening Colors — was a nice touch that ensured there was plenty of emphasis on the real stars of the night: our veterans.
But there was an actual basketball game played, and seeing as this is a college basketball blog, it would probably make some sense to discuss it.
It would be silly to read too much into the results of Friday night. Not only was this the first game of the season, but it played on an outdoor court in front of the smallest, but easily the most important, crowd that either team will face this season. As such, I think we can reserve judgement on the shooting troubles — particularly Michigan State’s — and the turnover issues that both teams had.
That said, there are a couple of things that we can take away from this game:
– North Carolina needs to find a way to get tougher inside. John Henson and Tyler Zeller can both do a lot of different things on a basketball court, but those two are approaching 14 feet of front court player and combined, may not crack 450 lb. It showed against Michigan State. While Henson managed to chalk up nine blocked shots, he finished with just seven boards in 31 minutes. Zeller only had six. In the meantime, the Spartans grabbed 24 offensive rebounds (48% OR) and, at times, physically overwhelmed UNC inside. If the Spartans didn’t shoot so horribly, the Tar Heels would have been in some trouble. James McAdoo may eventually be the answer for UNC, as he’s built like a tight end, but he’s clearly still learning how to put his physical tools to use.
– Kendall Marshall threw some absolutely gorgeous passes tonight, and not all of them led to an assist. There are not many players in the country that are as good as he is as taking an outlet pass and, without using a dribble, passing ahead and hitting a streaking wing in stride. Some of the passes he threw were strikes, fitting the ball in an impossible window. The problem with taking some risks like that, however, is that those passes aren’t always successful. Marshall finished the game with five turnovers. As much as I love when the difficult pass is thrown perfectly, the easy pass is usually the right pass.
– Michigan State is going to be just fine this season. While there is not the level on talent on this roster that there has been in recent years, this group is perfect for Tom Izzo. I’ve been saying it all preseason. They are physical defensively and they attack the glass on both ends of the floor. Yes, they had their issues offensively, but with so many new players this year — and with so many returners playing new roles — its understandable they would struggle. Keith Appling is in his first season as the starting point guard. Brandon Wood is playing his first season in the Big Ten. Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix are no longer part-time role players. Playing the No. 1 team on national television in front of the President is not exactly a pressure-free start to the year.
– I expect more out of Draymond Green. While the work he did on the back boards was thorough and he played admirably on the defensive end against a bigger and more athletic front line, his decision making offensively was fairly questionable. And I’m not just talking about late in the game, when he had to force things as the Spartans scrambled to try and mount a comeback. Even early in the game, there were times he forced the issue, took ill-advised shots (did he really think he could get off a turnaround jumper against John Henson on the block?) and turned the ball over. Again, tough conditions so I’ll reserve judgement, but that will be something to keep an eye on. If Green is the star and the go-to player on this team, is he still going to be able to play within himself?