North Carolina is coming off of another upset loss after falling to the University of Alabama-Birmingham this past weekend. The Tar Heels struggled mightily on offense, and star guard Marcus Paige could not shake the defense enough to find his shooting touch.
The road does not get any easier for coach Roy Williams‘ bunch as North Carolina takes on no. 1 Michigan State in the Big Ten–ACC Challenge at East Lansing Wednesday. North Carolina is one of the hardest teams to define this season because of how well the team played in an upset of Louisville earlier this season countered by unwatchable play in losses to UAB and Belmont.
The game against the Spartans is not necessarily a must-win this early in the season, but a strong outing from players other than Paige needs to happen. The Tar Heels must find some sort of organization on offense. J.P Tokoto registered a game-high 16 points against UAB, but he was one of only one of two players — Paige scored 13 points — to reach double-figures.
Balance on offense has been a major bug-a-boo for the Heels this season, and getting three or four players to reach at least 10 points against Michigan State could go a long way in building team morale.
James Michael McAdoo is the first player that should take note on this, but the junior forward has recently had problems finding his way into the offense. He had a season-low six points against UAB. McAdoo is in a three-game stretch of scoring less than 10 points. His athletic ability should make it easier for him to score, but at this point, the Tar Heels need to find an easy basket for him to build back his confidence.
The inside presence of Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks is maybe the best bet to help support Paige. Johnson and Meeks have both had solid single-game performances, but a one-game outing where both played exceptionally well together has been sparse. If there is a ever a game where both players will need to combine for 30 points and 18 rebounds, the game against the Spartans is it.
Johnson is averaging 13.5 PPG and 7.2 RPG, while Meeks is at 6.8 PPG and 6.3 RPG. Both have the skills and ability to break through, but it will not be easy against the rugged MSU defense. The Tar Heels were out-rebounded 52-37 against UAB. This number can not happen against coach Tom Izzo‘s Spartans. If it does, the Tar Heels will be done before the end of the first half. Johnson and Meeks must attack the boards for UNC to have any chance.
The Tar Heels need a lot to happen if they are going to pull off a road upset against the Spartans. If Paige can get loose and put up big numbers, that will help. However, the Spartans will definitely key on him, and other players will need to do more. This game means more than just helping the ACC’s chances of winning the challenge — it could make or break the Tar Heels’ chances of being a viable conference contender.