Hawaii may be a dream for many but MSU's (1-1) vacation ends tonight as the Bulldogs face the No. 11 Tar Heels (3-0).
Who: No. 11 North Carolina Tar Heels (3-0); UNC has defeated Gardner-Webb, FAU, and Long Beach State
Head Coach: Roy Williams at UNC (260-68), career (678-169)
When: 5 p.m. on ESPN2 (Dave O'Brien and Jimmy Dykes)
Where: Lahaina Civic Center in Maui, Hawaii in the 2012 EA Sports Maui Invitational
The challenge is here for MSU basketball. And what a mighty challenge it is.
North Carolina leads the all-time series versus Mississippi State, 5-0. Four short seasons ago, the No. 4 seeded Tar Heels defeated No. 1 seed MSU 76-74 in the 2nd Round of the 2010 National Invitational Tournament in Starkville. The game was a huge series of runs for both teams. Don't remember it well? Try Googling "Larry Drew II" and "floater over Varnado". Justin Sutton and I went to that game to witness Barry Stewart's final game in the maroon and white. We also got former Notre Dame great and ESPN analyst LaPhonso Ellis to wave at us from press row before tip off. Good times. Today's game is only the second meeting between the two former Southern Conference members since December 1964. Before that game, UNC had defeated MSU in 1924, 1926, and 1929. Yes. Sad moments that contributed to the 1929 Great Depression.
In State's last game, Roquez Johnson led the Bulldogs past FAU, 78-58. In a battle that saw Jalen Steele leave with a head and wrist injury, MSU clamped down and put forth one of the best acts of hustle and heart we have seen in more than a year. Johnson finished with 17 points and 5 rebounds. Three other MSU players finished with double-figures: Fred Thomas, 16, Craig Sword, 11, and Gavin Ware, 10. Turnovers were the demise of the Owls that night; MSU forced 27 turnovers and collected 17 steals.
Tonight's project starters against the Tar Heels are Sword, Thomas, Trivante Bloodman, Wendell Lewis, and Johnson. Colin Borchert is suspended for the Maui Invitational and did not make the trip. Thus, the short-handed Bulldogs will go to war this evening with only eight players on the roster.
UNC is coming off a 78-63 win at Long Beach State last Friday night. They lead the 49ers by one at the half but hit seven three-pointers in the second half to pull away. UNC can definitely rebound. They out rebounded LBSU 55-39, including a 23-12 margin on the offensive glass. UNC is lead by sensational sophomore forward and preseason John R. Wooden and Naismith Award watch lists, James Michael McAdoo who's averaging 21 points a contest. He also leads the rebounding category with 11.3 boards. The dude is 6' 9", 230 lbs. A true player challenge for any national powerhouse team. Junior guard/forward Reggie Bullock, UNC's leading scorer from last year's Final 8 squad, averages 10 points. The Tar Heels are deep, of course. All 16 suited Tar Heels have seen the court this season, and 12 of the 16 have played significant minutes. That stat alone should scare any Mississippi State basketball fan.
One final item to take note in today's game is UNC is 13-2 all-time in the Maui Invitational. They have won the tournament three times (1999-2000, 2004-2005, and 2008-2009) and reached the finals twice (1989-1990 and 1995-1996). The Tar Heels have won nine-straight games in Maui after losing to Villanova in the finals in 1995. UNC enjoys this tournament... and it has shown.