In one of the two titles games of what has proven to be the most exciting early-season college basketball tournament in recent memory, No. 4 Michigan State struggled. They shot 40 percent from the floor, turned the ball over 24 more times and mustered all of 63 points while playing North Carolina, a top ten team and the reigning national champions.
It was not the most impressive performance from the Spartans, but I probably should mention here that they won.
By 18 points.
In what was one of the ugliest games that you’ll see this year, the Spartans jumped out to a 37-23 lead at the break and threw it in cruise control down the stretch, heading back to East Lansing with a PK80 title and another quality win on their résumé.
The question that needs to be asked, I guess, is just how “quality” is this win?
Because North Carolina was atrocious. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a Tar Heel team play quite as poorly as they did on Sunday night. They shot 24.6 percent from the floor, which is the lowest number in the program’s history (!!!!), and their 1-for-18 performance from three set a Tar Heel record for ineptitude as well. The 45 points they scored were the second-fewest in the Roy Williams era. They scored 0.61 points-per-possession, a new low for the Williams era, and made just two shots outside the paint. Generally, that wouldn’t be a major issues, except North Carolina was 12-for-25 on shots around the rim and 14-for-24 from the free throw line.
“The way we played is just about the most shocking game I’ve ever coached,” Williams told reporters after the game, and I’m not sure that it can be summed up any better than that. “Our freshmen acted like freshmen, but so did our seniors, and so did our coach.”
This is not the first time that a Tom Izzo-coached team has given an opponent nightmares, and it won’t be the last. Their performance on the defensive end of the floor was impressive. The size, length and athleticism of the Spartans completely overwhelmed a North Carolina team that lacks playmakers. Joel Berry II struggled to get into the lane and make shots. Luke Maye, who had looked like a first-team all-american through the first five games of the season, came all the way back to earth. There were no perimeter shooters to help space things out. There was no veteran presence coming off the bench to change the game. There was no one in the paint that could handle the muscle of Nick Ward, Ben Carter and Gavin Schilling.
To be frank, this was the UNC that many of us thought we would see this year.
Not to this degree, mind you. There’s no doubt in my mind that this was an outlier performance. Just one of those nights.
But there are real, justifiable concerns about this North Carolina team that got overshadowed by the fact that Luke Maye turned into Kevin Love for the first five games of the season. If Cinderella puts the slipper back on and Maye can play somewhere close to the level that he was at prior to Sunday night, then the Tar Heels have a chance.
If not, then we probably should adjust our expectations to what they should have been entering the year. North Carolina isn’t a top ten team as much as they are a top 20-25 team.
A couple of quick notes on Michigan State before we move on:
- It was great to see Josh Langford really get it going. His ability to shoot the ball – and to get easy points in transition – is really big for this group. He needed that jolt of confidence.
- Michigan State really did look good defensively. They played a major role in North Carolina’s outlier night, and it should be noted that while they did give up 15 offensive rebounds, North Carolina missed 46 shots and 10 free throws. Sparty allowed just a 28% offensive rebounding percentage, which is a terrific number.
- They did, however, turn the ball over 24 more times. They now rank 300th nationally in turnover percentage. This is going to be a talking point for the Spartans all season long.