So how good are North Carolina? One of the best, based on their wins against Louisville and now number one ranked Michigan State? Or hopeless, like the group that lost to Belmont and UAB? At this stage of the season, it seems like everyone is trying to find out their true identity, but a win at East Lansing points towards Roy Williams having a shot at his best season in a very long time.
Maybe the biggest game in the Big Ten – ACC challenge was one of only two road wins (one for each conference), but complemented Duke’s win over Michigan, with Michigan State joining them as the only two ranked teams to lose in the challenge.
North Carolina, unranked, playing some fantastic defense and were led by Kennedy Meeks, coming off the bench to score 15 points, followed by Brice Johnson, also coming off the bench to score 14. The shot only 18.2% from beyond the arc but dominated the boards and the paint en route to a 79-65 win.
Michigan State, losing for the first time this season, couldn’t get anything going for them on offense. They hit only 35.9% from the field and 29.2% from beyond the arc. The Spartans finished with 12 assists, its fewest in a game this season. They entered the game averaging 22 per game, the best average in the nation. The Tar Heels also did a great job in the paint on both ends of the floor – they scored 44 points, their 4th most since the beginning of last season, while limiting Michigan State to only 28 points, tied for its sixth fewest in a game since the start of last season.
Tom Izzo never wins against North Carolina, losing for the seventh time to Roy Williams and the Tar Heels since the latter returned from Kansas. However, it’s rarely normal to have Michigan State as such huge favorites going into the game against North Carolina, and even rarer to see such a weak effort from a team that was frustrated right from the start, not expecting to see this kind of defense and quality from an unranked opponent.
I truly believe after the Louisville win, our mentality after that was, ‘Birmingham is just going to be an automatic win. Just because we’re North Carolina. We can’t have that mentality — and kind of learned that Sunday night. We came here, were ready to play, intensity level was up, and we got results.
Was that everything? Are North Carolina one of the best in the nation when they want to, or is it simply a case of better rivals not taking them seriously enough? It seemed like Williams and his players are quite stunned by the way this season is developing so far, but none of them lack any faith about the team’s potential, even if none of the freshman and sophomores he has are projected to be very high draft picks.
For Michigan State, this was a slap in the face. After beating Kentucky, it seemed like the experienced, well balanced side Tom Izzo assembled will be the most consistent team we see this season in College Basketball. It turns out even that can’t be trusted.